- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The first question to ask is if the New England Patriots are a better football team now that they have acquired talented but troubled cornerback Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That's a decisive yes. Talib addresses the Patriots' most glaring need, one created by their own doing and something that is significant enough to stand in the way of their championship hopes. It's hard to argue that point.
Then it's a question of what the Patriots had to give up, and if it was worth it.
A 2013 fourth-round draft choice represents good value for both teams -- the building-for-the-future Buccaneers weren't going to re-sign Talib, so they get something in return for a player who wasn't part of their future; the young but championship-contending Patriots can spare a midrounder (they've selected 40 players in the past four drafts).
The deal is similar to what we saw in 2003 when the Patriots acquired nose tackle Ted Washington from the Chicago Bears ... or in 2007 when they acquired receiver Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders ... or in 2010 when they acquired receiver Deion Branch from the Seattle Seahawks.
In each case, the price was a fourth-rounder. In each case, the player addressed a major trouble spot for a legitimate championship-contending team.
Washington, who turned out to be a one-year rental, was a rock in the middle of the defense and put the Patriots over the top en route to a Super Bowl title. No one was yearning for the fourth-round pick the next year.
The combustible Moss put together an unforgettable record-breaking season and ultimately stuck around for three-plus seasons. Well worth the fourth-rounder.
Branch, while not having the same impact as Washington and Moss, has been a solid contributor over the past two-plus seasons and also was worth the pick.
Is Talib, who has flashed No. 1 corner skills at times this season, the next in line?
He should be, but it's never that simple. There's a reason deals for receiver Chad Johnson (fifth- and sixth-round picks) and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth (fifth-rounder) didn't work out, and it's because one never truly knows how a player will fit in with a new team. Considering Talib has had trouble fitting in with the Buccaneers, this qualifies as a big gamble for Bill Belichick, similar to 2004 with running back Corey Dillon (acquired for a second-round pick).
No one questions Talib's talent. They do question what type of teammate he is (who swings a helmet at one of their own?) and the judgment he's shown off the field on multiple occasions (two NFL suspensions). The issues with Talib's commitment and character go back to his days at Kansas.
And that's really what this trade comes down to for the Patriots. On talent alone, it's a no-brainer. On compensation, it's in line with what the team has done in the past. On addressing a major need, it makes complete sense.
But as Belichick often says, when you acquire a player, you get the complete package. And Talib, currently on NFL suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, is a stick of dynamite -- potentially explosive.
Let's not forget what quarterback Tom Brady told Sirius XM NFL Radio earlier this year.
"I think there is an expectation that when you come in here, you have to represent this organization the right way. Coach Belichick finds those players. Mr. Kraft and Jonathan Kraft, that's what they care about," Brady said.
"If you're a bad guy, you're not going to be around. If you're not going to fit in, you're not going to be a very good football player. We've had so few of them over the years that just don't really work out. You come in and the expectation is to win, so it should be all about winning. If your attitude is somewhere else, then it's hard to find a group to hang out with here. You end up kind of being a loner and you don't enjoy it very much, because you have to worry about winning football games."
Belichick must have some assurances from good friend Greg Schiano, the first-year Buccaneers coach, that Talib is coachable and can fit in here. The Patriots' demanding, structured program is the antithesis of what Talib was part of in Tampa under former coach Raheem Morris (2009-11), so perhaps that's part of the thinking, too.
Maybe it works out like it did with Washington in 2003 and Dillon in 2004. Or maybe it's Albert Haynesworth, Part II.
Say this about Belichick -- he's bold as ever. Tired of seeing the secondary he constructed burned on big play after big play, he's made his move for one of the NFL's most talented, but most troubled, cornerbacks.
9hEric D. Williams