Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots free agent addition everyday from Feb. 18 through the start of NFL free agency on March 12.
The Patriots’ secondary didn’t exactly perform up to par in 2012, even after the midseason addition of cornerback Aqib Talib. Now, as the offseason gets underway, their biggest need will be to address their deficiencies against the pass.
With Talib’s return still uncertain and Kyle Arrington‘s also very much up in the air, the Patriots could be big spenders at cornerback this offseason. Fortunately, there is an extensive list of free agents that would fit right into Bill Belichick‘s defensive system.
There is no specific frontrunner in the free-agent cornerback pool, but the most talented player in the group might be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Cromartie has ideal size at the corner position at just over 6-foot-1, which is a trait the Patriots covet. He is also one of the fastest corners in football, running a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL combine back in 2008. That combination of size and speed saw Cromartie race up draft boards so quickly that the Arizona Cardinals took him at No. 16 that year.
He’s been able to harness his physical tools for stretches during his five-year career, but he’s never been able to do it consistently. Cromartie’s three seasons in Arizona were certainly his best as a pro. He combined for 13 interceptions, averaged better than 20 passes defensed and scored four defensive touchdowns over those three seasons. He was even selected to his first and only Pro Bowl while with the Cardinals in 2009.
Cromartie’s time in Philadelphia didn’t go quite as well.
In two seasons with the Eagles, Cromartie missed games (three in 2011) for the first time in his career, intercepted just three total passes, averaged about 11 passes defensed and didn’t score single touchdown. It was as if suddenly all the play-making ability was just sucked right out of him, either that or he just didn’t fit into the defensive scheme — Nnamdi Asomugha might confirm this theory.
DRC isn’t quite as established as his cousin Antonio Cromartie, but the younger Cro’ — still just 26 — has the ability to become just as dominant on the outside, which is why the Patriots might be interested.
After a few down seasons, Rodgers-Cromartie should come at a relative discount — likely even more so than Talib — this offseason, which should entice the Patriots even further. Getting a markdown value on supreme talent is right in Belichick’s wheelhouse and may stimulate some conversation, even if the Patriots end up going in a different direction.
The Patriots’ primary option at corner likely remains Talib, as he’s both somewhat established in New England and maybe the best player for the system, but Rodgers-Cromartie would be a good reserve option if Talib’s price tag gets too high.
There is a lot to like about Cromartie, and with the right players and environment around him in New England, he could really flourish into the premier talent he once was.
Check out another player the Patriots may have their eyes on.
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