The New England Patriots have a clear need at the second cornerback position, and so far they’ve struck out finding replacements. Two star caliber players in Aqib Talib and Richard Sherman were both available on the market, and the Patriots couldn’t acquire either player. However, not all hope is lost. There are still plenty of options to fix the New England Patriots cornerback problem.
How To Fix the New England Patriots Cornerback Dilemma
Sign a Top Free Agent
Currently, there are only two top-level talents available on the open market – Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler. Butler isn’t coming back to New England, so the Patriots should look into Johnson. It will probably cost a lot to obtain Johnson, but he’d likely be worth the cost.
The Patriots value versatility in their defensive backs, and Johnson can play just about any coverage. New England often mixes up their coverages from play to play, and Johnson is more than capable of playing at a high level in both man and zone coverage.
While not quite on Johnson’s level, there are a few other big name players that could be available in former New York Giant Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Dallas Cowboy Orlando Scandrick. Rodgers-Cromartie had a down year in 2017, but was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2015 and he was a big force behind the Giants dominant 2016 unit. Scandrick is still with the Cowboys, but has reportedly asked for his release. Scandrick normally plays the slot, but can line up inside and outside when he needs to.
Were any of these signings to happen, the cornerback position would go from uncertainty to one of the Patriots strengths. New England already has a lock down corner in Stephon Gilmore and putting Johnson alongside him would create arguably the best duo in the league. Factor in Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones coming off the bench, and suddenly there’s no weak link in the Patriots coverage.
Sign a Lower Tier Free Agent
New England only has so much cap space to fill their needs. Signing left tackle Nate Solder should be their top priority, and paying a top cornerback and Solder might not be possible. If that’s the case, there’s several other lower caliber players that could still find a role in New England.
The next cornerback doesn’t need to be a superstar. The rest of the Patriots secondary is stocked with talent with Gilmore, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung. Jonathan Jones was one of the best slot cornerbacks in football last year, per Pro Football Focus. All the Patriots really need is an adequate outside starter, and they could find one of those in Rashaan Melvin.
It took a while for Melvin’s career to get off the ground, but he’s finally put his skills together. He had a solid season in 2016 before becoming one of the best corners in 2017. He spent time on the 2015 Patriots roster, so there’s clearly something Belichick likes about him. If 2017 wasn’t a fluke and he can continue to play as a solid starter, he would be a great fit in the Patriot defense.
Another option could be Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin. Colvin didn’t play much last year, as he was buried on the depth chart behind the best cornerback duo in football. However, Colvin has shown the ability to be a serviceable cornerback when on the field. Historically, Colvin has primarily played in the slot, but he has played well when aligned out wide.
Go to the Draft
For the first time since 2012, the Patriots hold three picks in the first two rounds. With draft capital like this, the Patriots are well primed to find a solid cornerback. Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson is projected to be a late first-early second round pick, and has the frame and play style to fit the Patriots scheme.
Even if New England doesn’t draft a cornerback early, the Patriots can still fill the need late in the draft. For no logical reason, Belichick is considerably better with his mid-round picks than he is early in the draft. Historically speaking, the Patriots can be trusted to find a solid contributor in the third or fourth round, like they did with Logan Ryan in 2013.
Roll With What They’ve Got
It’s not ideal, but the world won’t end if Eric Rowe started as the number two corner. Rowe actually had a good Super Bowl after moving off of Alshon Jeffery, and has put together some good film over his two seasons in New England.
Is he the perfect number two corner? Not by a long shot. However, he could easily serve the role if the Patriots can’t find a better option. As mentioned earlier, the Patriots had one of the longest average sack times in football last year. The pass rush couldn’t consistently reach the quarterback, forcing the secondary to cover longer. This, naturally, led to more completions, and made the secondary look worse than it was.
The secondary won’t have to cover as long if New England can upgrade its pass rush. As it is, Gilmore, Chung and McCourty can hold their own in coverage as well as anyone. If the pass rush can get to the quarterback more consistently, the secondary should be in good shape.
The pass rush should naturally improve on its own. Trey Flowers is an absolute stud in the prime of his career and 2017 fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise Jr. showed flashes of brilliance his rookie year, and should only improve with age. In addition, 2017 third-round pick Derek Rivers missed all of 2017 with an ACL injury, but should be healthy for 2018. Dont’a Hightower is a great blitzing linebacker, and could line up on the edge more in 2018. Adding one or two more pass rushers would put the unit over the top.