Brent Grimes set the market for free-agent cornerbacks Monday by signing a four-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed to stay with the Miami Dolphins.
That means the New England Patriots will be forced to cough up close to $8 million per year if they hope to re-sign free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib. Grimes is two years younger than Talib and equally injury-prone, but the Dolphins cornerback doesn’t have the same history of off-the-field issues. Grimes and Talib were widely considered the top two free-agent cornerbacks heading into the 2014 season.
Let’s look at which players the Patriots can sign now that Grimes is off the market.
It would make sense for the Patriots to spend a little more on Talib than the other free-agent corners since he already knows the defense and has camaraderie with the rest of the secondary. The Patriots already released one starting defensive back — Steve Gregory — on Friday; they should try to keep as many key defenders as they can entering 2014.
Talib allowed 29 receptions on 65 targets for 471 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. He had four interceptions and a 54.1 passer rating against.
When viewed in a vacuum, those stats are incredible. But Talib missed three games with a hip injury this season and sat out in the second half of the AFC Championship Game two years in a row with thigh and knee injuries.
That seems like bad luck to any logical human being, but it will be a big deal to NFL decision makers and absolutely will be brought up in contract discussions.
Verner quietly has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL since 2010, when the Tennessee Titans drafted him in the fourth round. Verner doesn’t have exemplary size (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) or speed (4.52-second 40-yard dash coming out of UCLA), but he made more big plays than he allowed in 2013 — which, when it really comes down to it, is a cornerback’s biggest role.
Verner had five interceptions while allowing 39 receptions for 579 yards on 79 targets in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. If the Patriots lose Talib, they’ll probably look for another cornerback who’s over 6 foot, since Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington are on the smaller side.
Rodgers-Cromartie has similar size to Talib at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, and he could be slightly cheaper as well since he hasn’t been quite as consistent throughout his career.
Rodgers-Cromartie allowed 30 catches on 68 targets for 453 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. He signed a one-year, $5 million deal last offseason.
If the Patriots lose out on Talib, they could elect to sign a top safety and move toward more zone coverage with their corners. Tillman is one of the top zone cornerbacks in the NFL and will come a lot cheaper than Talib or Verner.
Tillman was sidelined with a triceps injury in 2013 and played in just eight games.
If Patriots are content with Ryan, Dennard and Arrington as the top three cornerbacks, they could look to a player like Cook, who has been a second-round bust for the Minnesota Vikings. He had the size (6-foot-2) and speed (4.46-second 40-yard dash) coming out of Virginia, but he’s been a below-average starter despite showing flashes of potential.
Cook likely would come cheap, and he’d be nothing more than a low-risk, potential high-upside signing.