There is little doubt that the Patriots secondary played much better in the second half of the season, with the arrival of cornerback Aqib Talib serving as the catalyst for that improvement.
The Patriots, however, are having their doubts about Talib's long-term future with the team.
According to Mike Giardi of CSNNE.com, "there is a concern in Foxboro about Talib's work ethic. At times [he] passed on extra work" and there are "still questions about how he'd react once/if he got a long-term deal."
This is not new; there were reports of concerns with his work ethic from the very day the Patriots traded for him. It appears that he didn't do as much as the team liked in eliminating those concerns. If Talib is okay with coming back on a one-year deal, Giardi thinks that's something the Patriots would be comfortable with, as well.
There are several other issues to keep in mind, though.
As I discussed here last week, Talib has a history of injuries including ailments to his hip and hamstring throughout his career. Those aren't the freak accident type injuries of, say, Aaron Hernandez's high ankle sprain and Rob Gronkowski's broken forearm. Injuries such as Talib's are more reflective of a legitimate durability issue.
The Patriots have $18.5 million in cap space, but with a slew of important free agents such as Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Patrick Chung, Kyle Arrington and Talib, keeping them all could be impossible. That's especially true if Talib commands between $8 million and $10 million per year, as did cornerbacks Jason McCourty (signed a five-year, $43 million extension in 2012) and Cortland Finnegan (five-year, $50 million deal in March).
There are a lot of hurdles to clear, but his impact on the secondary was clear. If the Patriots are unable or unwilling to bring him back, it will only open another hole in the secondary.
Here's some more news from around the AFC East.
Ron Spring of ProFootballFocus.com takes a look at the Bills' biggest needs through the lens of their ratings system.
Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News says the Bills open the offseason as 100-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl ("So you're telling me there's a chance...").
Kiernan Hogan of ProFootballFocus.com takes a look at the Patriots' biggest needs through the lens of their ratings system.
Bleacher Report Patriots featured columnist James DiMaio sets expectations for 2013 for the Patriots 2012 rookie class.
MiamiDolphins.com has video of an interview with Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland.
According to Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post, Ireland says he "violated [his] principles by drafting Ryan Tannehill."
Rich Cimini of ESPN New York talks about what the Jets can learn from Super Bowl XLVII.
B/R Jets featured columnist RC Cos lists seven Jets stars, and where they must improve in the 2013 season.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.