It’s been a little over 72 hours since the New England Patriots suffered a heartbreaking loss in the AFC Championship game. Players were at Gillette Stadium Monday, cleaning out their lockers, gathering extra belongings and conducting final interviews with the media.
Among them was cornerback Aqib Talib, who left the in the first quarter of Sunday’s game with a thigh injury.
Talib (26), who was acquired on Nov. 1 from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, is an unrestricted free agent.
While chatting with reporters Monday it was clear Talib is unsure about his future with the organization.
“I’m not really worried about all that right now,” he said when asked about free agency. “The game was 12 hours ago. I’m in the training room with the guys, we’re having fun. I’m still a Patriot.”
Before his arrival in New England, the Patriots were playing musical chairs in the secondary, desperately seeking an effective combination of defensive backs.
With injuries to starting safeties Patrick Chung (Weeks 7-10) and Steve Gregory (Weeks 5-8), the Patriots shifted cornerback Devin McCourty to strong safety.
When Talib was acquired—and activated following a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy—he made an instant impact in his Patriots debut. He logged seven tackles, one pass defended and a 59-yard pick-six against Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
He continued to showcase his skills in the remaining five games of the regular season, establishing an improved starting cornerback corps with Alfonzo Dennard manning the opposite side.
Talib once again showed his importance on Sunday. He kept Ravens star receiver Anquan Boldin largely in check before departing with the leg injury.
He will test the market this March when free agency officially begins—he made a little over $1.85 million in base salary this season.
New England has roughly $18.6 million in cap space. Although the situation with free agent Wes Welker presents a financial issue—if franchise tagged, Welker will be owed $11.4 million in 2013—the Patriots would be wise to make their best cover corner an offer.
However, there are two major drawbacks to inking a long-term deal with the 26-year old defensive back.
The most apparent is Talib’s baggage—the off-field issues that plagued him during his time in Tampa Bay. Bill Belichick has a history of bringing in disgruntled stars—Corey Dillon, Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco to name a few—and having them conform to the “Patriot Way." Talib said and did all the right things during his time with New England, but the organization should still be weary about the future.
The second biggest concern is his ability to stay healthy. Talib injured his hip in the first half of New England’s 42-14 thrashing of the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football. He was removed from the AFC Championship Game just 10 minutes into the first quarter after suffering an apparent hamstring injury, spending the rest of the evening on the sidelines.
Ultimately New England’s decision to re-sign Talib comes down to basic math. With less than $20 million in cap space and a laundry list of free agents which most notably include: himself, Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, Sebastian Vollmer and Patrick Chung, the Patriots will have their hands full this offseason.
Free agency begins March 12, and it will surely be interesting to see how it all plays out.