Loss of Alfonzo Dennard Would Prove Costly For Patriots

Alfonzo Dennard was one of New England’s most promising rookies in 2012. (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was considered a second or third-round talent after concluding an impressive collegiate career with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but ultimately slipped to the seventh round due to a confluence of factors, including questions about his speed, an underwhelming showing at last year’s Senior Bowl, and, most importantly, an April arrest for allegedly assaulting a police officer, an ongoing case which will go to the jury on Tuesday. If convicted, Dennard faces up to five years in prison. This article will examine the potential ramifications of a Dennard conviction.

New England’s selection of Dennard quickly proved valuable last season. Despite missing the Patriots’ first four contests with a hamstring injury and six games overall, Dennard was one of New England’s most consistent defensive backs at a very affordable $390,000 salary. Making seven starts on the outside, Dennard totaled 35 tackles, three interceptions, and seven passes defensed on the season.

He proved to be a reasonably effective tackler, missing just six tackles on the year, but what stood out the most was how quickly he adapted to the NFL, making a seamless transition thanks to his aggressiveness, his physicality, and his confidence. In total, Dennard allowed completions on just 36/72 attempts, a 50% rate, for 516 yards and five touchdowns, finishing with a quarterback rating against of 79.4.

Dennard’s perceived lack of speed was not a major factor last season; disguised well by his instincts and by his press coverage. A few of Dennard’s completions resulted in gains of over twenty yards, but only one pass went for over thirty (a touchdown catch allowed vs. San Francisco.) By the end of the year, he was easily one of New England’s most consistent performers in the secondary.

Should Dennard face either prison time or a suspension from the NFL, the Patriots may be forced to enter next season even thinner than anticipated in the defensive backfield, especially if free agents such as Aqib Talib and/or Kyle Arrington are not retained. As of now, the only other cornerbacks on New England’s roster are 2011 second-round pick Ras-I Dowling, who has played in just nine games through his first two seasons, and Malcolm Williams, considered more of a special teams contributor than a coverage option.

The Patriots are almost certain to add to that stable of cornerbacks through free agency and/or April’s NFL Draft, but New England has struggled in recent years to either evaluate or develop cornerbacks selected in the draft, including second-round picks such as Dowling, Terence Wheatley, and Darius Butler, so relying on rookies for immediate production may prove costly to a team in contention for a Super Bowl title.

Any free agent signings would likely also be forced to adapt to New England’s coverage shells, which have given some players difficulty in the past; chemistry in the secondary could also prove to be an issue. That could necessitate Devin McCourty playing on the outside while Dennard is out, which, as the roster currently stands, would shift starting responsibilities to the comparatively less efficient safety combination of Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson.

Of course, it’s possible that Dennard could be found not guilty and presumably escape league discipline, but the Patriots should nonetheless have a contingency plan in case they are forced to account for the absence of their starting right cornerback for some or all of the 2013 season.

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7 Responses to “Loss of Alfonzo Dennard Would Prove Costly For Patriots”

  1. andrew says:

    the terrelle pryor situation is not the same. pryor basically agreed to the punishment in exchange for being allowed into the supplemental draft. any punishment would be overturned on appeal.

  2. Irvin Moss says:

    For the NFL to punish this young man for something he did *before* he was even in the NFL is just wrong (and it doesn’t matter if his conviction comes a year later).

    Guilty or not is up to a court in Nebraska to decide.

    If the state of Nebraska finds him guilty, to put someone with no prior criminal record in prison for a relatively minor fight with a cop is just a waste of tax money — no wonder the US has more people in prison (by far) than any country in the world!

    This man is no “threat to society”. If Dennard is found guilty, if Nebraska was smart they’d fine the hell out of him, give him some suspended sentence, and encourge him to stay the hell out of Nebraska.

  3. karnak says:

    Whoa, Dennard is nowhere close to being found guilty. Not the first time a person has been wrongfully charged and Dennard has witnesses who say he did no such thing and is not guilty. Also, since this episode took place BEFORE Dennard came into the NFL, it would be a serious overreach for Goodell to try and punish him.

    • MatthewJones says:

      Courtsey of Shalise Manza Young on Boston.com:

      “A second Lincoln police officer, Phillip Tran, testified Thursday that he heard Kopsa commanding Dennard to stop, then saw Dennard put his fists up, go “toe to toe” with Kopsa, and then punch him in the face.

      However, Samani’s recounting of the confrontation differs from what the officers said happened: he and a friend said they saw Dennard swing at Kopsa, but Kopsa tried to avoid the punch and they did not see if the right hook connected.”

      That sounds pretty incriminating. There’s also a precedent for penalties imposed by the NFL as a result of college violations (see Terrelle Pryor’s five-game pro suspension for receiving improper benefits at Ohio State.) It’s possible that the commissioner would opt not to add an additional suspension if Dennard is convicted, but obviously if he’s going to be spending time in jail or prison, he can’t be on the field for New England.

      • AM says:

        Dennard also called a witness, albeit his brother, who contradicted the officers’ testimony. So, three different stories: one from the victim, one from the officers, one from a witness and the defendant. Maybe reasonable doubt, maybe not.

        Either way, the Terrelle Pryor suspension was borderline unprecedented, and raised an awful lot of cries of improper procedure; I’d be surprised to see it again. Moreover, even if the NFL decides this is a violent act, it is probably a low-end suspension–highly unlikely that a conviction results in jail time without any priors (which does not appear to be the case here). A first-time offender is likely to get a fine and probation or a suspended sentence for something that didn’t result in serious damage.

  4. Doug says:

    Um… what happened to Marquice Cole? Did you just forget he was on the roster?

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