Cornerback Reconstruction May Await New England This Offseason

Should the Patriots re-sign cornerback Kyle Arrington this offseason? (Photo: US Presswire)

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.

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26 Responses to “Cornerback Reconstruction May Await New England This Offseason”

  1. LEC says:

    The best thing for The New England Patriots to do this off season is to take a page from the Seattle Seahawks playbook and draft tall cornerbacks and safeties. Maybe go for NCAA Basketball back court drafts picks in the secondary dept

  2. Joe Blake says:

    I would like to see the Pats retain both players. Arrington is a special teamer and a slot cover guy. Can’t cover on the corner. Is a penalty machine on deep routes. Regarding Talib: franchise him or load contract with incentives and behavioral clauses. He can cover better than anyone else we have in the secondary(sad to say). If we are outbid on both, we’re hosed! As a fan, I really don’t care how much Krafty Bob spends of his inherited money, but I don’t want us in cap jail either. Draft and free agency are the keys to next season with injuries as the uncontrollable wild card. Given draft history in 2nd round. I recommend we draft up not down. Two quality players from it and two quality FA would be ok in my book.

  3. Nick says:

    With a HOF QB the Patriots started focusing on offense a few seasons. Yes it almost produced 2 super bowl winners.They lost both because they were not like the teams that won 3 super bowls. Thoughts teams were built around defense and ball control. It’s time to go back to that. They need to draft up to get a TALL shut down corner. Banks and Millner are the guys to focus on. Leave McCourtney at safety. In general, the other Patriots cover guys are respectable football players who tackle BUT the pass needs to be stopped. It’s difficult for a guy under 6 feet to consistently stop a guy over 6 feet tall. Hopefully the Patriots can find a tall shut down corner.

  4. Bruschi54 says:

    I agree that the scenarios laid out are well done. I can’t imagine BB letting them both leave along with Chung & the uncertainty with Ras-I. As much as I liked the way they looked with Talib on the field, I think another team will offer him more money than the Pats are willing to. The value Arrington brings to the special teams unit also will cause the team to sign him as long as his price tag does not get crazy. I would like to see them target Landry as FA, but think they will spend the big money to re-sign Welker & Franchise Vollmer. Trade 1st RD pick for 2nd & 4th, draft CB, Safety, WR & DT.

  5. MaineMan says:

    It’s interesting that prevailing *assumption* is that Talib will be demanding far too much money for the Pats to afford him, especially considering his 2012 performance.

    Talib sat for five games, then played six games (5 starts) in a different scheme with different playcalls and communications responsibilities – and then played hurt for 4 (?) of those games – learning on the fly. It’s just as possible that Talib is smart enough to know where he’s been and to self-evaluate his 2012 (and his first trip into the playoffs) with the Pats accurately. It doesn’t seem at all impossible to me that he’d sign a 3-4 year deal that made his 2013 cap-hit (not salary) around $4.5M (which is actually commensurate with several 2010-2011 UFA deals for “good” cornerbacks) and escalated from there (heavily incentivized) for a total value of around $22M-$24M (about what the Pats re-signed Bodden for). Now, if it turns out that he actually demands much more than that, yeah, he’s probably gone, but I certainly don’t think it’s a lock that he does.

    As for Arrington, he may have had a craptastic start to 2012 on the outside, but he was at least adequate at RCB in 2010-2011 (and not every “good” cornerback can handle that side well), plays the run better than a lot of safeties (e.g., Gregory) and is an excellent special-teamer. Finding that combination of abilities in one guy isn’t going to be all that easy (e.g., the couple dozen FAs and draft picks that have been on the roster the past 3-4 seasons who weren’t nearly as good) and $2.5-$3.0M for 2013 (cap hit) is probably worth keeping him around as a #3/#4 guy. Again, yeah, if he demands starter $$, that ain’t gonna happen with the Pats, but I’m not going to *assume* that it goes that way.

    And even if the Pats re-sign both these guys, they’re STILL going to need another FS-type who can cover deep and tackle well, AND a “3rd good corner” in order to make the secondary “whole.” Lose both these guys and the secondary will again (for the *nth* consecutive season) be trying to dig out of a deep hole on the backs of 3-4 new guys who are basically total unknowns.

    • Alex says:

      While $3m may not be starting corner money, it is starter money. I really struggle to see Arrington get much interest in FA, so I say let him hit the market, and then if it’s as soft as I’d expect, look to bring him back for three years on the cheap. No more than $2m per.

  6. JV says:

    No brainer..option 2. Also demote Gregory to second string, because that is what he is. A backup.

  7. Noah M says:

    I say option 2 if his demands are reasonable, not too long or too high. Arrington is a nice player but I think he could be much more easily replaced in the draft, and if I had to pick between 3M type money to him vs 6M for a player like Ed Reed I’d take Reed in a heartbeat. Besides being a better player, Reed could teach our young backfield a lot and keep Talib in line a few years while he grows up.

    Then if they would only draft Tyrann Mathieu late in the draft, get him into shape and move to safety once Reed is gone, we would be set for a few years.

  8. Bmp1113 says:

    I would like to see talib gone and keep arrington because i highly doubt hes demanding alot of money. I would move dmc back to corner where he had some great games last year before the switch. Sign reed, or any other of ghe great fa saftys to fill his spot and let wilson/gregory cover the other. Dennard was awesom and ras-i will be there too. I think the pats should go wr in 1st with hopkins or maybe patton then go defense 2nd. The pats absolutely need a wr in the draft. What happens if lloyd goes down? Hopkins would fill in great and can play deep.

    • Jeff M says:

      First off, McCourty is atrocious at CB. The only one worse outside is Arrington.
      Second, how do you know that Dowling will be there?! The guy has been hurt 3 straight years including his last one in college. He’s made of glass.

      Put it this way peeps…whatever the plan is, if it doesn’t involve keeping Talib we’ll be sitting here again next year watching another team beat us in the AFC Champ game or worse, the SB.

  9. Nick says:

    Arrington should go if he wants starter money. He’s okay in the slot, but complete shit outside. Assuming they resign Talib, they should still draft another CB. But first they need to draft a safety who can hit and cover, a WR, and a pass rusher. So they would need a late round CB who can play.

  10. Jim Keddy says:

    Another factor in the mix is Alfonzo Dennard. Will he be
    playing for the Patriots in 2013 or will he be in jail or worse
    out in Nebraska. His trial date is next week.

    • AM says:

      In theory, I think he could serve up to five years in prison, but with no prior convictions and no serious injury, he’ll probably get probation.

  11. Hunter says:

    Absolutely let them both walk. Talib was on an extended job interview… he failed. Arrington is by far the worst cornerback this team has ever dubbed a starter. I would rather have Poteat, Gay or Moreland starting. All Arrington does is give up plays. I’d much rather they went after someone like Porter or Williams, and looked to the draft. I would also say that the backfield has 4 capable starters in McCourty, Dennard, Gregory and Wilson. The trouble is figuring out what configuration to use them in.

    • Jeff M says:

      They were all used last year…and we were 29th against the pass.

      In the 7 games Talib played we were 7th against the pass…the only failure here is the coaching staff developing DBs and Bill wasting picks on them and all of them busting.

  12. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    I think Arrington is gone, and Tailb also, just too much money for what your getting. Draft a CB early, and 1-2 late. Thier cost will be less for 4 years. If Dowling ever gets on the field he maybe somthing. There will be most likely undrafted CB’s you can give look at. Sign FS Jim Leonard for Min. contract, he is a clone to Gregory, but returns punts.

  13. TD says:

    Definitely depends on the definition of “lucrative”. I like Arrington on the inside only and would like to have him back if that was going to be his role. If they do resign him and let Talib go, I want a CB with one of those first 2 picks that has the ability to play their rookie year and compete with Dowling until he gets put on IR.

    I’m okay with letting Talib go because I think signing a veteran CB (if available) would bring similar stability to the secondary which made Talib so valuable to the Patriots.

    I too like Banks as Patfan does, but no matter how many times I see him falling to the Patriots on this site, I don’t think he makes it out of the top 20 without a combine/pro day disaster.

    • Jeff M says:

      Even if he did drop and the Pats got him at 29 he’d bust within 3 years anyways because that secondary coaching staff is a joke.

  14. My choice is Talib only if the money was good for Pats side. Arrington has shown little or no improvement in his time with Pats so look for someone in draft or 1 or 2 undrafted free agents from draft. Time to move on.

  15. J.H TARBORO says:

    Hell, We need LEON SANDCASTLE!!!

  16. acm says:

    Option 3 – keep Arrington, if the money is right. Talib would look for a much bigger contract than what the Pats would be willing to give him and f-tagging Talib is out of the question as that would cost the team 10.6 mil next year.
    Would rather see the Pats invest in two proper safeties from free agency, which would free-up McCorty for the CB role and then draft another top CB and maybe a safety prospect too.

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      Arrington would have to come cheap to stay. Looking at the draft board, CB Milliner, Banks ,and Trufunt , will be gone before we pick at #29. The Guy I think BB likes best is Jorden Poyer anyway. If BB trades back to far , Poyer will be gone. Which leaves us CB Daruis Slay.
      BB trade move will be key, if we trade Mallett, I hope it’s done a few weeks ahead of the draft, or sooner.

      • acm says:

        just too many scenarios to properly account for :). Personally, as things stand with the Pats at 29th in the 1st, I think one of Trufant, Banks, Rhodes falls there (best guess at this point, before the combine, would be Rhodes imo).
        If BB can take care of the safety issue in FA-cy and get someone like Canty to solve the need for DT/DE help, assuming Volmer is signed while Talib and Welker leave in free agency, I think the main needs that need to be covered in the draft would be secondary, coverage LB and WR.

        Providing no trades take place (by that I mean both a Mallet tarde and trading down the 1st rounder), Rhodes with that 29th would do us well, imo. Then maybe a WR in 2nd and a LB/SS guy like Holloman in the 3rd. Or trade the 3rd+one of the 7th rounders for 4th and 5th and get Holloman in the 4th and a WR like Mellette or M.Wilson in the 5th. Then an OL, DT or CB with the other pick in the 7th.

        If no value player of need falls to us at 29, trade down and gain an extra couple of picks in 2-4th rounds for CB (Alford, Ryan, Slay, Wreh-Wilson) and whatever other position may be considered of need – coverage LB (Greene, Moore), Safety (thomas, Cyprien, Duke Williams) or a mix of both (Holloman), OL (Long, Schwenke, Menelik Watson, Terron Armstead), WR (Wheaton, Patton, Swope, etc).

        All in all, we could end up with 2 in the 2nd, a 3rd and a 4th rounder or could maybe use the 7th rounders and/or late picks from next year to get 2 in the 2nd and 2 in the 3rd. After that, whether we trade our 3rd rounder for a 4th and a 5th or not, we should be able to improve the secondary, WR position and a coverage LB. OL-man in the later rounds would be an extra bonus, imo.

  17. J.H TARBORO says:

    Option 3 Arrington is best at covering the slot receivers! That is what he does well.

  18. AM says:

    Really well put-together post. Reading this, I can see the case for any of these options.

    Talib’s injuries and off-field issues scare me a bit, and Arrington is clearly better in the slot than on the outside. I suppose I would definitely lean towards signing Arrington, knowing that it locks down three of the de facto five secondary positions (with Dennard on the outside at CB and McCourty at FS). Then, acquire another ouside corner, whether Talib, another free agent, or even a rookie or two.

    It figures that the one draft that is loaded with WR and DB talent would be the one where the team has a serious lack of picks.

  19. patfan says:

    I say let them both walk but that does leave us without very many veterans in the secondary. I say draft a tall CB (I like Banks) and a strong safety (I like Amerson, Cb/SS combo who could do both if needed). I would then get a mid level cover corner in FA for medium money and keep Gregory in the mix also who know if Wilson will have a 2nd year jump. Then you can sit back and if the rookies out perform the vets then you arent losing a lot in $$$.

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