Logan Ryan's Emergence Gives New England Patriots Options in Offseason

James ChristensenContributor IDecember 26, 2013

May 3, 2013; Foxboro, MA USA; New England Patriots rookie Logan Ryan speaks to the media during rookie minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Logan Ryan has given the New England Patriots something they desperately crave in the offseason: leverage.

The rookie cornerback—drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft—has played himself into the starting lineup with his instinctual play. While his teammates have surely been happy with his progress, I'm not sure that Aqib Talib's agent has shared their joy.

Talib has certainly had an impressive year for New England, playing this season on a one-year, $4.975 million contract. According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, he had other options for 2013:

Talib decided to sign the one-year contract rather than a five-year pact in hopes of cashing in afterward, Rapoport and Breer reported. The cornerback passed on three other options to remain on the Patriots.

Concerns about Talib's off-the-field behavior depressed his market in an already soft cornerback market. He didn't get the long-term contract he wanted or even a big one-year figure. For the Patriots, $5 million is a relative bargain.

Breer reported that Talib had interest from three other teams and a five-year deal on the table from the Patriots. But Talib didn't want to take a long-term offer in this market. Like so many others during this free agency period, Talib will "bet on himself" and hope that he improves his free-agent value with a strong season.

Bill Belichick might have been forced into signing Talib to a lucrative long-term contract—Talib won't accept another one-year deal if it isn't the franchise tag—this offseason, but Ryan's emergence might have brought down the price that he is willing to pay.

Ryan, along with second-year cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, have both shown that they are starting-caliber players in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), quarterbacks have a 52.8 rating throwing in Logan Ryan's direction. That trails only Seattle's Richard Sherman.

Ryan had two interceptions in the Patriots' 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens, but his most impressive play merely resulted in an incompletion.

NFL Game Rewind; Notations by Oliver Thomas (NEPatriotsDraft.com)

The situation was dire for the Ravens. It was 4th-and-3, and Baltimore needed to score while losing 17-0. Joe Flacco will try and test the Patriots secondary with two vertical routes inside, with a trio of short routes designed to stretch the defense horizontally. 

Safety Steve Gregory "sugars" by walking up into the box, but the Patriots are playing Cover-2 all the way here. Ryan is playing the left flat.

NFL Game Rewind

Flacco has a high-low read on the left side of the field. Tight end Dennis Pitta is running a short curl route with Ryan, and linebacker Dont'a Hightower flanking him on either side. Meanwhile, wide receiver Jacoby Jones is running a deep out route, aiming for the spot in between Ryan and Gregory.

Ryan is watching Flacco intently. The Ravens quarterback never comes off his first read.

NFL Game Rewind

Ryan breaks on the deep receiver before Flacco even finishes his throwing motion. He undercuts the route and had a chance to intercept the throw. Instead, Ryan spikes the ball to the ground.

Whether it was on purpose—the Patriots would receive the ball due to the failed conversion anyway—or not is a mystery for now. If it was, that is the sort of situational awareness that Belichick loves.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett once stated, "When you combine ignorance and leverage, you get some pretty interesting results." If the Patriots have similar instincts to their young cornerback, their front office will approach the Talib situation in a smart way—re-signing him to a slightly below-market deal or letting him walk. If successful, New England could have a top-flight secondary for years to come.