NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
One of the most interesting situations facing New England’s front office this offseason is how they choose to handle the expiring contracts of cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib, who are likely looking for lucrative multi-year deals. Here, we’ll examine the case for re-signing both players, just one, or neither. Be sure to leave a comment and let us know what you think!
Option 1: Re-sign both Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington
The case for this option: The safest option this offseason would be for the Patriots to re-sign both Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington; although neither player played especially well this season, New England’s secondary looked surprisingly stable following the acquisition of Talib. Devin McCourty settled into the free safety position, where he was very effective, allowing just 5/14 passing for 60 yards on regular-season passes into his zones; McCourty intercepted three passes and did not surrender a single touchdown at the safety spot. Kyle Arrington moved from the outside to the inside, where his physicality, ability to defend crossing routes, and run support are well-suited.
By retaining both players, head coach Bill Belichick would at least know what he has moving forwards, and the Patriots could focus on improving other positions in free agency and in the draft, such as wide receiver, defensive tackle, defensive end, and safety. The Patriots have not drafted well at cornerback, so it would be a risk to trust a rookie with a significant role on the team.
Option 2: Re-sign Talib only
The case for this option: Of New England’s two major free agents at cornerback, Talib is easily the more important player. He is capable in both man and zone coverage and allows Devin McCourty to play free safety rather than cornerback, where he was not quite as effective. If the Patriots lose Talib, they could have a difficult time replacing him in either free agency or the draft. This year’s free agent crop is relatively weak at cornerback, with many of the most talented options struggling in 2012; players such as Sean Smith, Mike Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Antoine Cason could be headed for generous deals on the open market.
The Patriots have struggled to develop cornerbacks they’ve drafted, and should opt for the known quantity in Talib. Arrington is a slot cornerback but could demand a starter’s pay because of his high snap count; that money would be better invested elsewhere on the team, such as towards re-signing wide receiver Wes Welker or offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
Option 3: Re-sign Arrington only
The case for this option: Arrington is a relaible option for New England, having played in every game for the Patriots over the past three seasons. At 26 years old, he is still in the early stages of his career and has been effective in the slot during his time with the Patriots; struggles on the outside suggest only that New England’s coaching staff should revise their opinions on how Arrington is best utilized. Although re-signing Arrington would not provide New England with an answer on the outside, Aqib Talib’s value to the team was largely in allowing both Arrington and Devin McCourty to move to positions more natural for them: the slot for Arrington, free safety for McCourty.
Talib’s projected contract demands, character issues, and durability concerns should push New England towards making a safer investment at the position, whether through a mid-level free agent or in the draft, where the rookie pay scale minimizes the risk of a failed selection. If worst comes to worst, McCourty could always play cornerback, where he improved substantially upon an inconsistent 2011 campaign.
Option 4: Allow both players to leave
The case for this option: Although New England’s secondary looked more cohesive than it has in recent seasons, the Patriots still struggled to defend the pass in 2012, ranking 29th in opposing passing yards allowed. That suggests room for improvement, and neither Talib or Arrington played well enough to warrant the type of money they could make on the open market. Talib’s character and durability issues make signing him to a long-term deal dangerous for New England, and his play did not warrant the franchise tag.
Despite looking more comfortable in the slot, Arrington was responsible for allowing five touchdowns and a 119.9 passer rating against, the latter being the seventh-worst figure in the league this year. The Patriots should focus on re-signing players such as Wes Welker and Sebastian Vollmer instead; by reaching deals with other core players and making modest free agent investments, the Patriots can focus on finding younger, cheaper cornerbacks in the draft, which looks surprisingly deep this year at the position. In a worst-case scenario, Devin McCourty could play cornerback.