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Free-agent fit: Cornerbacks

3/12/2012

Eighth in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 13.

Position: Cornerback

Players under contract for 2012: Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Julian Edelman*, Devin McCourty, Sterling Moore, Malcolm Williams (safety possibility)

Level of need: Moderate

Projected top targets: Jason Allen (Texans), Zack Bowman (Bears), Richard Marshall (Cardinals)

Why Allen fits: The former first-round pick (2006) of the Dolphins would be a depth option, as he has experience at cornerback and safety. He had some rocky moments early in his career, but is coming off arguably his best season (11 passes defended, 4 interceptions). At 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, he has the size that the Patriots now seem to be targeting.

Why Bowman fits: At 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, he has good size and is athletic, which shows up in his work as a gunner on special teams. He looked to be on the rise in 2009 with six interceptions as a starter, but his production and defensive opportunities tailed off in each of the last two seasons, making him a potentially undervalued asset in the market.

Why Marshall fits: The 5-foot-11, 198-pound Fresno State product enters his seventh season and could provide a veteran presence to this younger group. Also has 17 interceptions, so he's shown a knack for being around the ball at times over his six seasons with the Panthers and Cardinals.

Other names of note: Brandon Carr (Chiefs), Cortland Finnegan (Titans), William Gay (Steelers), Corey Graham (Bears), Patrick Lee (Packers), Bryant McFadden (Steelers), Antwaun Molden (Patriots), Tracy Porter (Saints), Carlos Rogers (49ers), Aaron Ross (Giants), Marcus Trufant (Seahawks), Jonathan Wilhite (Broncos), Eric Wright (Lions).

Market conditions: Finnegan headlines the market and figures to be part of the first wave of free agents that visit teams and strike big deals. Because teams often lock up their top cornerbacks, it's no surprise that this year's free-agent crop is full of more No. 2, 3 and 4 options. The draft has some depth at the position.

Questions to answer at position: Can Devin McCourty return to his 2010 form? ... Will Ras-I Dowling avoid the injury bug that he experienced in each of the last two seasons (1 at Virginia, 1 at New England). ... Is receiver Julian Edelman* part of the mix again, or was he strictly an emergency option in 2011?

YOUR TURN: Which of these would you like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.