Sometimes the New England Patriots lose players in free agency and it seems like an unwillingness to move enough off their negotiating stance is the primary reason. What unfolded late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning was something altogether different.
When cornerback Aqib Talib reached a six-year, $57 million contract with the Denver Broncos that included $26 million in bonuses and guarantees, it was simply a case of another team taking things to the outer-most limits that didn’t seem possible when the process began.
The Patriots weren’t going there because of Talib’s injury history, and when the emotion is stripped away from the shock of the team losing its No. 1 corner, can you honestly blame them?
This is the part of free agency that makes it so hard to project; all it takes is one team to blow things out of the water, and that’s what the Broncos did with Talib, who instantly upgrades their secondary and makes the Patriots weaker.
Talib was terrific in his 1.5 seasons here, putting forth a body of work that was as impressive as we’ve seen since Ty Law was making big plays from 1995-2004. The Patriots had finally found a matchup No. 1 corner, and it was clear how much they valued it because game plans seemed to be built around him. Players and coaches loved Talib, but there was one caveat: His durability and injury history was shaky, as he didn’t finish either of the past two AFC Championship Games.
The Patriots went into their negotiation with Talib in recent weeks with that in mind. The Broncos didn’t, and that was obvious with the final contract numbers.
Furthermore, Talib’s signing highlights the differing core philosophies between the two franchises who vied for the AFC championship last season. They couldn’t be approaching things from more opposite end zones.
If the Broncos’ aggressive approach produces a Super Bowl championship in 2014 and then a steep drop-off in future years because this type of approach is hard to sustain, the locals in Denver probably won’t mind one bit. In fact, it’s what some in New England have been calling for the Patriots do as quarterback Tom Brady’s “window” gets shorter and shorter.
But the Patriots don’t believe in that, in part because of the high injury rate in football, as owner Robert Kraft explained at the Super Bowl.
“I don’t ever believe in selling your soul for a bowl of [porridge],” Kraft said recently on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Well, the Broncos just heated up one extra-large bowl of porridge.
Now the Patriots, long prideful of their slow-but-steady successful approach, are left to pick up the pieces without Talib. The pressure intensifies to do so.
There are still some solid cornerbacks for the taking, including one -- Darrelle Revis -- who would be an instant upgrade over Talib. But Revis likely won’t come cheap either, and we still have doubts about that ultimately unfolding.
A more likely scenario, it seems, would be to simply “trade” cornerbacks with the Broncos and sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as a free agent; it will likely be a lot cheaper to do so, both in total dollars and length of commitment. And while Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t as complete a corner as Talib, he has similar coverage skills in his ability to play man and hold his own. Tarell Brown (49ers), Antonio Cromartie (Jets), Cortland Finnegan (Rams), Brandon Browner (Seahawks), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks) and Tracy Porter (Raiders) are a few other options on the market.
Surely, the Patriots would have preferred to keep Talib if price tags weren’t an issue.
But as it turned out, this was one of those rare cases where the cost was so far out of line that the discipline to walk away trumps all.