Aqib Talib took a little of his own advice.
"Cash that check, baby. Got to pay the bills, man," he said with a smile at his locker, in reference to his former teammate Marquice Cole signing with the Denver Broncos in the days leading into the AFC Championship.
Now, Talib is cashing a check of his own — and probably a much larger one than the one signed by Cole. The Broncos signed Talib to a six-year, $57 million contract with $26 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. That's a lot of dough for a player with a long history of injuries and off-field concerns throughout his career.
But that's not the Patriots' problem now. Their problem is who will be starting for them in the secondary in 2014. By the numbers, the secondary was better without Talib, but anyone who watched the games can tell you tehy were clearly not the same when Talib went down with injuries in 2013.
In some way, shape or form, the Patriots need to find someone who can be a shutdown presence on the outside.
The contingency plan is now in full swing, but with many of the market's top free agent cornerbacks signing with other teams, the remaining options are on opposite ends of the spectrum. It's either ball-out on the high-priced Darrelle Revis, or ball-on-a-budget with Antonio Cromartie.
The Patriots have been linked to Revis in several media reports, the latest coming from CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, who says Revis would "love" to play in New England, and that the Patriots are in a "strong position" to trade for him. They may not even have to trade for him if the Buccaneers choose to cut him.
Cromartie would be the more economic option, but he's hardly a sure fix or a long-term option. The eight-year veteran will be 30 years old at the start of the 2014 season and is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career — although he was slowed down by injuries. He would make a lot of sense from a Patriots perspective, especially if he's willing to take a one-year prove-it deal to show that the 2013 season was a fluke.
Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is another option after a standout 2013 campaign, but he made headlines during Super Bowl week when he announced he was considering retiring after the big game. He has not generated much buzz on the free agent market, but the Patriots have to explore all their options.
If the season began today, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan would be the team's starting cornerbacks. They both have starting experience — Dennard has started 15 games for the Patriots, while Ryan started seven as a rookie. Dennard has been a solid No. 2 ever since he first stepped into the starting spot midway through his rookie season; Ryan has starter potential, and could reach it very soon, but if the Patriots can add top-notch talent to their secondary, they have to explore the possibility.
The alternative would be to field an undersized, unproven secondary that looks a lot like the unit that was torched for 4,703 passing yards in 2011, the third-highest total in NFL history. If the Patriots were willing to pony up for Talib, they would have to be considered a possible landing spot for any of the remaining cornerbacks that are out there.
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