NFL Trade Speculation: 8 Teams That Should Take a Chance on Aqib Talib
It's always the talented ones that create the toughest decisions.
Pretend for a second that Aqib Talib was some sixth-round draft pick barely hanging onto a roster spot. Or a mediocre backup who could vanish from the face of pro football without making a ripple.
In that scenario, the aggravated assault charges Talib is currently facing—on top of the 2009 incident when he allegedly punched a cab driver, the 2010 incident when he threatened a ref during a game, and the trio of drug tests he admittedly failed in college—would make it easy for any NFL team to steer clear of the 25-year-old cornerback.
But Talib is good. Very good. He is one of the best cornerbacks in the league, solid in run support and shut-down when covering receivers.
In 11 games last season, he made 40 tackles and intercepted six passes, leading a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that ranked seventh in the league against the pass and ninth in points allowed.
So while the Bucs weigh the pros and cons of keeping their best defensive player, several other teams have to weigh the pros and cons of acquiring Talib and instantly improving their defense.
Even though Talib's trial doesn't start until March 2012, he could be suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell before then and miss games next season.
And it should be noted that Talib missed the final four weeks of last season with a torn tendon in his hip—one of the most important body parts for a cornerback. But when he's healthy and suited up, Talib is a game-changer.
Here are eight teams that should take a chance on him:
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Why: You know every time a good player with "character issues" hits the market, the Raiders will be in the mix.
Oakland is going to lose All-Pro corner Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency, and replacing him with Talib would be a best-case scenario. Chris Johnson, the man immediately behind Asomugha on the depth chart, is a career backup who turns 32 years old next season.
Why not: Oakland planned for Asomugha's departure by drafting Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke in the third round and Ohio State's Chimdi Chekwa in the fourth. Second-year corners Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware will also be in the rotation next season, auditioning for the starting spot opposite Stanford Routt (whose new 3-year, $31.5 million contract indicates he's ready for a leading role).
The Raiders have a solid defense already, and they've accumulated enough depth and youth in the secondary to feel safe taking a pass on Talib.
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Why: On paper, Dallas appears set at corner with Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, both Pro Bowlers. But Newman is expected to be traded or released this offseason, and Jenkins followed up his breakout '09 campaign with a disappointing effort in '10.
Talib would help shore up a defense that ranked 31st in the NFL in points allowed (27.3 per game) and tied for last place in passing touchdowns allowed (33).
Why not: Like the Raiders, the Cowboys are usually good for taking a chance on a talented player despite any red flags. But recent history with such decisions—e.g. Pacman Jones and Terrell Owens—might be enough to make Jerry Jones think twice about Talib.
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Why: Houston has the foundation of a potentially great team—led by Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Mario Williams—but the franchise's first-ever playoff appearance won't happen until the Texans learn to play at least above-average defense.
Last season the Texans gave up a League-worst 267.5 passing yards per game and 33 TD's through the air. And with QB phenoms Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert joining the AFC South this year, along with the indestructible robot that is Peyton Manning, no team will survive the division for the foreseeable future by getting ripped up in the passing game.
Schaub and Johnson turned 30 years old this summer. If the Texans want to capitalize on their opportunity while the core is still in its prime, Talib is worth the risk.
Why not: Sometimes going home is the worst thing for an athlete with off-the-field issues. Houston is about four hours away from Talib's hometown, while Dallas is about 30 minutes away, and both teams have to consider that proximity when dealing with Talib.
Besides, the Texans drafted two cornerbacks this year, Miami's Brandon Harris (2nd round) and Virginia Tech's Rashad Carmichael (4th round). The rookies can challenge last season's starters, 2010 first-rounder Kareem Jackson and '09 draftee Brice McCain, and presumably the team can get two solid corners out of the group.
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Why: Last season, Tennessee's two starting cornerbacks combined to make 201 tackles. That's not a good number. It means that opposing quarterbacks were throwing darts against Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner. (The Titans allowed 25.6 pass completions per game, worst in the NFL.) By comparison, first team NFL All-Pro corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis combined for 51 tackles.
No matter how tough Finnegan plays on TV, he is the face of a defensive backfield that routinely gets pushed around. Finnegan and Verner are both 5'10" and weigh under 190 pounds each. Talib is listed at 6'1" and 205 pounds.
Why not: The Titans are trying to rebuild with a rookie QB and a first-year head coach. With the Vince Young era almost officially in the rearview, and Kenny Britt bringing his own brand of drama this offseason, the franchise probably doesn't want to invite another potential headache with Talib.
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Why: It's the football version of the chicken/egg argument: Does inadequate pass coverage beget an ineffective pass rush, or vice versa?
No matter the answer, the Broncos need to fix it all. The NFL's worst defense gave up more points (29.4) and yardage (390.8) per game than any team in the League last season, as well as registering the fewest sacks (23).
Denver used six of its nine draft choices on defensive players—including safeties Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter—but adding a seasoned (although not over the hill) veteran like Talib would make an immediate impact.
Why not: The Broncos already have a lot of money tied up in cornerbacks. Earlier this year, Denver re-signed superstar Champ Bailey to a 4-year, $43 million contract. Last year, they inked free agent Andre Goodman to a 5-year, $25 million deal. Giving up even more resources (i.e. draft picks, players, money) to get another big-name corner isn't the most responsible move when the entire Broncos defense needs an overhaul.
Goodman was bothered by leg injuries all season and missed half of Denver's games. And when he was on the field, he got picked on by QBs trying to avoid Bailey on the other side. Goodman deserves at least one more season to showcase the skills that made him a budding star with the Miami Dolphins.
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Why: Finding the right CB to complement Asante Samuel has been almost as tough for the Eagles as it was for the 76ers to find Allen Iverson's backcourt mate. Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson got their chances to show and prove last season and didn't impress.
Philly's pass defense wasn't terrible last season—they fell somewhere in the middle of the pack—but with Michael Vick having just turned 31 years old, the Super Bowl window won't be open for long. If the Eagles have a chance to turn a decent defense into a very good defense with one move, they have to consider it.
Why not: Talib would be the bronze medal for Philly, who reportedly has their eyes securely fixed on Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to fill the void at corner.
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Why: If Detroit's new defensive tackle tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley turns out to be as dominant as I think they will, opposing offensive coordinators will have to throw the ball a lot more just to avoid that 600-pound wall. That's where a shut-down corner like Talib becomes high priority.
Why not: Choosing talent over character is tempting for a franchise trying to erase a legacy of losing. But the Lions are also trying to earn back the trust of fans who deserted them, plus cultivate young players to create a winning program.
I'm not claiming Talib is a bad guy, but bringing in somebody with his rep might send a message to the community the Lions don't want to send.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Why: Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow said it best in a recent interview with NFL.com: "We need that guy to win. Talking about Super Bowls—we need him really more than anyone besides (QB Josh) Freeman. He's that good. He locks down receivers. He's got to iron out what he's got to iron out, but we need him as much as anybody."
The Bucs aren't quite on the brink of Super Bowl contention yet, but losing the cornerstone of their defense would be a big step backwards. Head coach Raheem Morris has been a Talib supporter, so if the team can help it, they'd surely prefer to keep their star CB and hope he has a good lawyer.
Why not: Let's say Tampa keeps Talib for next season, he doesn't get suspended and he plays every game. Does that makes the Bucs (10-6 last season) a championship team? Not really. Then let's say during the 2012 offseason, Talib is convicted in court and goes to prison. So the Bucs would lose him for nothing.
Even if Talib's value has been driven down by the impending court case, trading him now would be just like trading a player during his contract year if you think you'll lose him in free agency. Or they could just release him and wipe their hands of the whole situation. From a football perspective, it may be the safest, smartest thing Tampa can do.