The Patriots’ biggest need this offseason is in the secondary. Yes, we’ve been over this time and time again already. But while we’ve identified some logical replacements so far, we haven’t considered their best, physically speaking at least, option on the market.
Sean Smith has been lining up across from the Patriots’ best outside receiver for four years now, using his big, physical frame to frustrate each of them. For which Bill Belichick has definitely taken notice – even if the numbers don’t exactly add up.
His interception totals — just five over four years — won’t wow you. The amount of passes he’s been credited with defending — an average of 10 per season — aren’t going to widen those eyes either. But line him up across from the 5-foot-9 Wes Welker, a 6-foot flat Brandon Lloyd or even the 6-foot-2 Aaron Hernandez and you’ll understand the intrigue.
Smith measures in at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds — taller than about 80 percent of receivers around the NFL — and has grown into one of the better press coverage corners in football. His size yields incredible strength at the line of scrimmage and can seem intimidating to opposing receivers.
Using such massive corners on the outside has become a proven entity in the NFL of late. Case in point: the Seattle Seahawks. Richard Sherman (6-foot-3) and Brandon Browner (6-foot-4) were near impossible to solve last season, and the Seahawks boasted maybe the league’s best secondary due in large part to it.
Alfonzo Dennard, who checks in at just 5-foot-10, doesn’t offer the Patriots quite the size to replicate the Seahawk’s approach, but pair him with Smith and you’re looking at a very skillfully diverse and dangerous duo.
Much of the onus at cornerback in New England this offseason has centered around Aqib Talib, but if the price tags are similar the size advantage might make Smith the wiser choice.
Smith does have an issue maintaining a consistent level of play, similar to Talib, but he doesn’t hold the same lengthy and well-documented rap sheet. Talib does have experience in the Patriots’ system and proved a valuable asset at times in 2012, but Smith’s size, aggressive playing style and lack of character concerns just paint him as a more appealing option.
Still just 25, Smith has a lot of time to improve and the physical makeup to develop into one of the league’s few shutdown corners. Adding him to a secondary that already features Dennard and Devin McCourty would make for a solid unit and a young core to build around. With pieces like that in place, the Patriots could quickly transform from one of the worst secondaries into a top-tier pass defense.
The old saying tells us that size doesn’t matter, but in the case of the Patriots’ secondary that clever adage need not apply.
Other free agent possibilities: Gosder Cherilus – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – Danny Amendola – Anthony Spencer – Anthony Fasano – Dwight Freeney – Brandon Moore – Dunta Robinson – Glover Quin – Greg Jennings – Rashean Mathis