During the AFC Championship game in 2012, the Patriots were up on the Baltimore Ravens 3-0 when Aqib Talib was injured early in the first half and could not return to the game. The Patriots, of course, would lose that game 28-13. This past AFC Championship in Denver was a similar story. The Pats only trailed 3-0, Talib was injured early, and 6’3” Demaryius Thomas had to be covered by 5’11” Logan Ryan, which did not fare well for the Pats.
Those two instances alone are enough to show just how important Talib is to the Patriots.
Of the numerous important free agents that the Patriots have this season (WR Julian Edelman, LB Brandon Spikes, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, LB Dane Fletcher, DE Andre Carter, and C Ryan Wendell to name a few), the Patriots have made Talib their priority, and with good reason. Luckily, the cornerback seems destined to return. ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss weighed in on the matter.
I think the chances are strong that Talib returns to New England. With several top cornerbacks set to hit the market, and mutual interest between the sides, I think the key factors are in place for a deal to get done. Furthermore, the legal tampering period (March 8-11) should help both sides get a better feel for the market before it officially opens (March 11), which was the way it was supposed to work with Wes Welker last year. I think that experience from last year will aid both sides in this situation. As we know, anything can happen, but my view is that the right factors are in place to make a deal.
But if the Patriots brass is so focused on keeping Talib around, why don’t they just franchise tag him?
There are definitely reasons not to. First of all, the franchise tag price for cornerbacks in 2014 is projected to be between $11 and 12 million, which is a lot for a player who has yet to play an entire season due to injuries. Also, that would probably pave the way to a multi-year deal, and that’s not necessarily good for the Pats either when they don’t know if he can stay healthy.
Still, Talib seems slated to return to New England regardless. As for the other free agents, the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe told Bleacher Report that “talks with other free agents have been slim to none.” With the cap space that the team has left, Edelman seems like the obvious next priority, but the team still has yet to approach him. There will definitely be losses as well, with Spikes and Wendell being two who might end up being worth a little more money than the Patriots are willing to spare.