Poor secondary play has played a role in the New England Patriots losing two Super Bowls in the past five years to the New York Giants, but Aqib Talib can help them win the big game.
Trade deadline deals are rare in the National Football League, and 2012 was no exception.
There was no fire to the few trade rumors that caught smoke, including rumored deals for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. Unsurprisingly, the one trade that came out of nowhere involved the New England Patriots making a big move with high potential reward.
The Patriots have had issues in their secondary all season, and with the team’s personnel as of Thursday morning, the situation seemed unsalvageable. After trading for troubled, but talented Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib on Thursday afternoon, there is a new hope that the Patriots’ defensive backfield to play well enough for the team to make a Super Bowl run.
The Patriots had a serious lack of both talent and depth at cornerback, and if Talib plays up to his ability, he can be exactly what they need. He is a long, physical and athletic cornerback who tackles well.
Most importantly, he can cover.
Devin McCourty is a talented defensive back who struggles with inconsistency but is one terrific secondary playmaker when he is on his game. Alfonzo Dennard has shown big potential as a rookie after being only a seventh-round draft pick.
Aside from them, however, the Patriots cornerback rotation has been a mess.
Veteran Kyle Arrington has played poorly this season, while the Patriots other two cornerbacks with starting experience, Ras-I Dowling (injured reserve) and Sterling Moore (waived and then signed to the practice squad) are no longer on the 53-man roster.
The Patriots safeties have also played very poorly through the first half of the season. Starters Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung have missed the past two games due to injury. The Patriots moved McCourty to safety where he has played fairly well.
With the acquisition of a truly starting-caliber cornerback in Talib, the Patriots may have the flexibility to keep McCourty at safety. If Dennard can establish himself as a quality starter, he and Talib would be a solid starting duo at cornerback. McCourty playing in the middle is a big upgrade over any of the other safeties on the Patriots roster.
Coming with Talib’s talent, however, are his off-the-field troubles.
Talib still has to serve one more game of his four-game suspension for unprescribed use of Adderall. He has a past checkered with two serious arrests as well as fights with teammates, as chronicled by the Tampa Bay Times.
Given his troubles, it came as no surprise that the Buccaneers decided to trade him.
Talib is in the final year of his contract, and given his issues in his years with the team, they would likely not have re-signed him. The Buccaneers are not going to be contenders this season, so getting a draft pick in return for him made sense.
The surprising part of that deal is actually that the Buccaneers got a fourth-round pick in return for Talib (they also traded what was previously the Bears’ seventh-round pick to the Patriots). Considering Talib is currently suspended, prone to trouble and has no long-term deal, a sixth- or seventh-round pick would have seemed to be enough for what could effectively be only a half-season for the Patriots.
But although the price the Patriots paid was higher than expected, it was still a move worth making. The Patriots’ pass defense ranks 28th in the NFL this season, in large part due to blown coverages in the secondary that have led to big plays.
If Talib stays on the field, he can lock down one side of it and play a big role in eliminating big plays.
Did the Patriots give up too much for Aqib Talib?
If the problem is not solved, it will continue to cost them games. If the addition of Talib can shore up the secondary, it could be the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs.
Chances are good that the Patriots will only have Talib for the rest of this season. If he does not perform up to his ability and stay out of trouble, it will be a wasted fourth-round draft pick. With that said, it is also a good thing that the Patriots have no long-term commitment to Talib. They acquired a player who can really help them make a potential Super Bowl run this season but will owe him no money following this season if he fails to pan out.
While a fourth-round pick is a fairly valuable selection, the Patriots have shown in recent seasons that they are willing to trade Day 3 selections to take a risk on a talented but troubled veteran.
Last season, the Patriots traded a 2012 fifth-round pick and 2013 sixth-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for wide receiver Chad Johnson (formerly known as Chad Ochocinco) and also traded a 2013 fifth-round pick to the Washington Redskins for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Those trades turned out to be wasted picks, and there is certainly the risk of the Patriots wasting a pick again in this deal.
But faced with the opportunity to trade for a starting-caliber cornerback at a fairly low price, a move that could shore up the unit whose play was most likely to hold them back, the Patriots had to take advantage.
Dan Hope is the New England Patriots game day correspondent and NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. For more coverage of the Patriots, follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.