Free Agent Snapshot: Jim Leonhard
|02.27.12 at 11:35 pm ET|
We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of safety Jim Leonhard. With the understanding that the NFL’s franchise tag window is from now until March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:
Weight: 188 pounds
The Patriots need to build some depth at safety, and while this wouldn’t be a high-profile move, but an intriguing one. The Wisconsin product is a smart, savvy veteran who has made his bones the last couple of seasons as the most integral safety on the New York roster. He suffered a torn patellar tendon last year and missed the second half of the 2011 season, but is expected to be ready for 2012. He’s not expected to be re-signed by the Jets, and could be had for relatively little cash (perhaps as low as the veterans’ minimum) because he’s coming off the injury.
In addition, there is value to signing someone away from your divisional rival, a player who has hurt you in the past. (The Patriots tried to do the same thing this past year with defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, but Ellis had little left in the tank.) Leonhard hasn’t been particularly impressive against New England over the course of his career, but he is credited in several circles as being one of the players who helped come up with the game plan to beat the Patriots in the divisional playoffs in 2010.
Patrick Chung is solidly in place as one of the safeties going forward, but the rest of the position is up in the air. Safety James Ihedigbo is an unrestricted free agent, while cornerback Devin McCourty spent some time at free safety in sub packages and Sterling Moore also displayed a similar versatility. Leonhard has a reputation as a solid player who is a positive locker room presence. While he doesn’t have the wheels that he used to and struggled in coverage the last couple of years, he would be competitive with the current group of New England safeties.
(One more important point: If the Patriots are looking to improve at the safety spot in the draft, it doesn’t appear that there will be many impact players available in the draft, other than Alabama’s Mark Barron and ‘ perhaps ‘ Notre Dame‘s Harrison Smith.)
Why it might not work: Leonhard is an old 29, he’s lost a step and because of the injuries he’s suffered over the last few seasons, he’s developed a rep (fair or not) of being injury prone. (He’s been IR’ed over the last two seasons.) He’s smart and could bring some of the state secrets from a divisional rival, but it’s questionable what sort of impact he could have long term on the New England defense.