The New England Patriots began the process of patching up its safety position by signing ex-San Diego Charger Steve Gregory on March 15. However, the chances of the Pats acquiring another safety via free agency or April's draft is highly likely.
In terms of free agency, a person of interest is Pro Bowl strong safety Yeremiah Bell.
Bell was released by the Miami Dolphins on March 19 after eight seasons with the team. In 2011, the Eastern Kentucky product amassed 107 total tackles, two sacks and an interception. Bell has been a consistent contributor in Miami's secondary, and topped the team in tackles for four consecutive seasons.
According to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Bell has garnered interest from both the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. However, there is also a slight possibility that the Dolphins may opt to re-sign the veteran defensive back.
Is New England's intrigue anything more than due diligence? Could Bell be the man who starts alongside free safety Patrick Chung?
Standing at 6'0" and 205 pounds, Bell is strong tackler, but is vulnerable in coverage. CSNNE.com writer Mary Paoletti reports that Bell lands at No. 74 out of 87 safeties in ProFootballFocus.com's pass coverage rankings.
Last season, the Patriots' defense was 31st in pass yards allowed with 293.9 per game. Which begs the question: would Bell be an asset as safety for New England?
Don't look for the 34-year-old safety to intercept many passes, his most picks came back in 2009 when he had three. He's not a ball hawk by any means. Nonetheless, Bell brings intensity to a team and knows how to find the ball carrier, something that every team values.
The Patriots may avoid signing an aging safety with the draft nearing, but Bell remains a viable option on the market.
Currently, the New England depth chart is sparse at the safety spots. Chung, Gregory and Sterling Moore are listed at strong safety, while Sergio Brown and Malcolm Williams man the free safety position.
With Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio and Head Coach Bill Belichick looking towards the future, the draft could be where the Patriots make their splash.
The top safety prospects in the 2012 draft include Alabama's Mark Barron, Notre Dame's Harrison Smith, Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin, and Boise State's George Iloka.
With that said, it still wouldn't be a shock to see Bell in Foxboro next season. New England has been longing for the next Rodney Harrison to fill the strong safety spot. When Harrison joined the Patriots in 2003, he too was an eight-year vet.
Ultimately,Yeremiah Bell brings experience and polished talent to the table. New England would be fortunate to have his services in the twilight of his NFL career.
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