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The return of Aqib Talib makes sense for both sides

03.16.13 at 1:36 pm ET
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In the end, it was a pairing that made too much sense not to work.

Against the backdrop of a depressed cornerback market — with a team that needed his return to help provide some stability and consistency at corner — the Patriots and Aqib Talib agreed on a one-year deal with $5 million.

It’€™s a deal that’€™s a win-win for both sides: Talib gets a one-year ‘€œprove-it’€ contract that, if he stays healthy, clean and plays at a relatively high level, will give him an opportunity to go back on the market in 2014 and potentially land a big deal. Meanwhile, the Patriots, who continue to seek balance and depth at the cornerback spot (particularly with the uncertain legal future that’€™s facing fellow corner Alfonzo Dennard) got a bargain, picking up one of the best corners on the market for a relatively paltry $5 million a year.

Despite some hue and cry that the Patriots should franchise Talib (particularly in the wake of Dennard’€™s murky legal situation), the Patriots did a good job reading the market on this one. Frankly, it’€™s a bad year to be a free agent corner: Talib (one year, $5 million) joins Sean Smith (three years, $18 million from the Chiefs) and Keenan Lewis (five years, $26 million from the Saints) as top-level corners who got significantly less money (guaranteed and otherwise) than elite corners of years past. Compare this year’€™s numbers to last year, when Cortland Finnegan got a five-year $50 million deal with $27 million guaranteed; Carlos Rogers got four years and $29.3 million; and Lardarius Webb got six years, $52 million with $10 million of that guaranteed.

(While Talib’€™s off-field rep may have figured into all of this as well, it’€™s worth mentioning that over the course of his time in New England, after he served the balance of his suspension for violating the league’€™s policy against performance-enhancing substances, he kept his nose clean for the balance of the year.)

For the Patriots, it represents a win in that they can bring Talib back for a full year in their system. And while he was by no means a Pro Bowler in his six regular-season games with New England last year, he allowed the Patriots to play to the strengths of some of their other defensive backs, foremost by moving Devin McCourty from corner to safety on a full-time basis, and kick Kyle Arrington from outside into the slot. Both McCourty and Arrington played very well at their new spots last season after the arrival of Talib, and the improved numbers — and the overall improvement of the pass defense across the board — wasn’€™t entirely coincidental.

The biggest immediate question with Talib is his health history. He struggled with hip issues last season, and a leg injury early in the AFC title game loss to the Ravens changed the tone of the game, in that it exposed New England’€™s lack of depth in the secondary. Providing he can stay healthy — and that’€™s a big if, given his history — he should be considered New England’€™s top corner in 2013. He certainly has every reason to stay on the field, as he’€™s playing for a new contract for the second consecutive season.

As the first week of free agency comes to a close, it’€™s clear that there is an increasing sense of stability to the Patriots’€™ secondary — with the return of Arrington (who inked a four-year deal earlier in the week — $16 million, with $8.5 million guaranteed) and veteran safety Adrian Wilson (who signed a three-year deal with New England as well), it’€™s starting to come into sharper focus. McCourty was paired with veteran Steve Gregory at safety down the stretch in 2012, and that figures to be the starting safety duo to open the 2013 season, while Talib and (perhaps) Dennard will open as the starting corners, along with Arrington in the slot.

Filling in around them, Wilson will likely be a part of the mix — the oversized safety could play the ‘€œmoney’€ position of extra defensive back who takes over for a linebacker on passing downs. Then, there’€™s also youngsters like safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner and corner Ras-I Dowling who could also play a role in 2013. In addition, it’€™s also important to note that this is considered a very good year when it comes to adding depth at defensive back in the draft.

Ultimately, while Talib is the most noteworthy of the additions to this point, don’€™t expect the Patriots to be standing pat when it comes to the secondary going forward the rest of this offseason.

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