Patriots Free Agency Blueprint: Big No. 1 Cornerback On Must-Sign List

Aqib TalibThe New England Patriots will attempt to re-sign Aqib Talib, but if they can’t reach an agreement with their best available free agent, they must sign another big No. 1 cornerback.

The Patriots got lucky when the salary cap rose from $123 million to $133 million this offseason, but they found out quickly that the market price for cornerbacks has risen drastically over the last year. Talib signed a one-year, $5 million contract last offseason, compared to the four-year, $39 million deal Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields signed Saturday.

If the Patriots can’t — or refuse to — afford Talib, cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be cheaper options. All three players are over 6-foot and could be the No. 1 cornerback in the Patriots’ defense.

Cromartie and Rodgers-Cromartie aren’t quite as good as Talib, but they’re more durable and don’t have as spotty a track record of off-field behavior. Rodgers-Cromartie and Talib both will be 28 years old for the 2014 season, while Cromartie turns 30 in April.

Chicago Bears free agent Charles Tillman also is over 6-foot, but he’s a better zone cornerback, while the Patriots preferred to use man coverage in 2013. If the Patriots have to sign Tillman, they also likely would have to sign a better safety┬áthan incumbent starter Duron Harmon to play next to Devin McCourty.

Other than signing a No. 1 cornerback, find out what the Patriots need to concentrate on when free agency starts at 4 p.m. Tuesday

Julian Edelman

Other cornerbacks can come close to mimicking Talib’s skills, but there isn’t another wide receiver who already has Tom Brady’s trust like Edelman. The slot/”Z” receiver isn’t the type of player a team should break the bank for, but Edelman also is not worth losing over $1 million, especially with the salary cap expected to rise even more over the next two years.

While it’s looking more and more likely the Patriots could lose Talib in free agency, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of buzz surrounding Edelman. Other teams know he’s probably a system player who likely will never replicate his 2013 season, when he caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards with six touchdowns.

Edelman is more valuable to the Patriots than he is to any other team, which should allow them to re-sign Brady’s favorite target.

Veteran Pass Rusher

The Patriots have to improve their pass rush from the edge and at defensive tackle. In an ideal world, they’ll address one of those needs through free agency and the other through the draft.

The open market has plenty of options for pass-rushing defensive ends and defensive tackles. Jared Allen might be the best fit, if he’s willing to take a discount to sign with a proven winner. Allen won’t re-sign with the Minnesota Vikings, according to his agent, so the Patriots will have a shot at him Tuesday.

If the Patriots want to sign a veteran defensive tackle instead to boost their pass rush, Henry Melton, Arthur Jones and Kevin Williams all are available.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

Yardbarker

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 190,909 other followers