Aqib Talib Brings Off-Field Baggage, Elite-Level Talent to Deprived Patriots Secondary

Aqib Talib Brings Off-Field Baggage, Elite-Level Talent to Deprived Patriots SecondaryThe Patriots’ secondary has clearly been their Achilles heel
this season. But Bill Belichick took action to try and correct that issue at
the trade deadline.

Aqib Talib, a supremely talented and superbly
careless cornerback, was traded from the Tampa Buccaneers at the deadline in
exchange for a 2013 fourth-round pick on Thursday. The Patriots also received a seventh-round pick in the deal.

A former first-round draft pick — 20th overall in 2008 — Talib
possesses the skills and speed necessary to be a shutdown corner in the NFL. But his off-the-field issues continue to derail what should be a perennial Pro Bowl-type talent.

Talib, 26, was an elite talent coming out of Kansas in 2008
with projections as a legitimate cover corner. But even then, behavioral problems
and character questions watched him dip beyond his talent grade in the draft.
The big issue remains that those problems have spilled into his
professional career.

During his four-plus seasons in the NFL, Talib has been
arrested once and suspended twice. Talib was suspended for the season-opener in
2010 stemming from an altercation with a taxi driver in August 2009. He was
then arrested in 2011 for allegedly firing a gun at his sister’s boyfriend.
Those charges were eventually dropped and Talib wasn’t suspended.

He’s currently serving a four-game suspension after
violating the league’s substance-abuse policy by testing positive for Adderall.
Not a great track record for someone being relied on to improve an already
revolving door in the secondary.

Having served only three of the four games on his
suspension, and thanks to the Patriots’ bye this weekend, Talib probably won’t
suit up for the Patriots until Week 11 against the Colts. But the Patriots have
already spent eight games struggling with a mediocre secondary, so his absence
won’t be a departure from the norm.

Off-the-field stuff aside, Talib remains one of the better
defensive playmakers in the NFL.

At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, he’s a big, physical corner. He has
great speed, especially considering his size, and he possesses elite ball
skills comparable with some of the best in the league.

Through 58 games in the NFL, not even four full seasons,
Talib has 18 interceptions and has returned three of them for touchdowns — impressive considering the small time span.

That playmaking mentality brings back memories of old friend
Asante Samuel, who’s a true opportunist in every sense of the word. While a
great compliment, Talib sometimes also suffers from the same route-jumping
tendency that made Samuel such a liability. Which is still only a minor flaw.

With Talib on board, even if only on an eight-week rental
given his expiring contract, the Patriots will also have some flexibility to
try and properly sort out their secondary.

Patrick Chung and Steven Gregory are both on the mend and
expected to return within the next few weeks, which should provide some more
depth. With them back in the fold, Devin McCourty could return to his more
natural cornerback position. Although, with Talib on board, McCourty, who has
performed more than admirably at safety, could be afforded the opportunity to
stay there long-term.

Whatever McCourty’s future may hold, Talib’s
presence should add some much-needed depth and ability to a desperately
deprived secondary. The experience of Kyle Arrington along with McCourty and
Chung — as well as the improvements of guys like rookie Alfonzo Dennard and
Marquice Cole — are important to the development of the Patriots’ secondary.
And if able to provide some stability, Talib will immediately alleviate
pressure off those players.

Talib’s off-field issues should certainly be of concern for
Belichick and the coaching staff. But for the failed ventures such as Albert
Haynesworth
and Chad Johnson, the Patriots have also found success in the likes
of Randy Moss and Corey Dillon. Not to unfairly compare Talib to either player,
but there is proof that such risks have worked in the past.

The assessed risk also has to be tempered as there’s no
chance this deal ever goes through without Buccaneers head coach and Belichick
confidante Greg Schiano signing off on Talib. So, there’s at least some relief
in taking on such an unpredictable character.

Normally an underwhelming and for all purposes meaningless
event, the NFL trade deadline actually showed some spice this year. And Talib stole the show. But if Talib pans
out in New England, the Patriots will be the true thieves on this day.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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