While the New England Patriots don’t typically make big splashes in free-agency, the team may be forced to do so to fill an obvious need. With Malcolm Butler on his way out following a Super Bowl 52 benching, the Patriots will need to find their No.2 corner-back. Both Aqib Talib and Richard Sherman, who the Patriots were rumored to have interest in are both out of the picture, forcing the team to look elsewhere. Despite this, there are still options for the team to fix their corner-back dilemma. While there aren’t any shut-down corner-backs left on the market, there are still some players the Patriots could have interest in, who can still provide the team with some much-needed help defending against opposing teams’ top receivers alongside Stephon Gilmore.
Trumaine Johnson (2017 team: L.A Rams)
Trumaine Johnson will be an intriguing option for the Patriots in free agency, with many corner-backs off the market. With the Rams acquiring both Talib and Marcus Peters via trade, the Rams are likely to let Johnson go elsewhere. With that in mind, the Patriots could be interested in signing Johnson, whose price tag likely won’t be too high. The team signed Gilmore to a 5 year, $65 million contract last off-season which shows the Patriots’ willingness to spend money in the secondary. While Johnson is not a shut-down corner-back, he is still a productive corner-back who finds a way to get involved. Last season Johnson finished with 65 total tackles, which shows his effectiveness as a tackler. Entering his seventh year in the league, Johnson is still young (27), and has plenty of room to grow. By signing with the Patriots, he will have plenty of opportunity to grow into an effective No.2 option behind Gilmore on the depth chart. With the Patriots moving on from Butler, Johnson is a player that can spark the teams’ interest in acquiring another young talented corner-back to provide some strong play, much like Gilmore did for the Patriots last season.
Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie (2017 team: New York Giants)
After being cut by the Giants, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a player that will look to prove himself after coming off a down season. Despite this, he is not too far off finishing his 2016 campaign with six interceptions, which is not all that easy to do. He is one of the older corner-backs on the market (31), but could still be an intriguing option for the Patriots, who have had success in the past with corner-backs entering the end of their careers. He is unlikely to command for much money, which is another benefit for the Patriots who don’t like to spend too much on free agents. The team doesn’t have much depth as is, and adding a player like Cromartie could help in adding competition in training camp. While he is not one of the more intriguing options left on the market, the Patriots would value adding proven veteran who can battle against some of the younger corner-backs on the roster, especially if the team decides to look for help in the draft.
Prince Amukamara (2017 team: Chicago Bears)
Also as a former Giant, Prince Amukamara could be a player on the Patriots’ radar heading into free-agency. While he has not produced as well as earlier in his career, Amukamara played relatively well with the Bears last season. Playing on a one year, $7 million contract, he was out to prove himself last season to the Bears, who could also be interested in bringing him back. Like Cromartie, he is unlikely to ask for too much money, and is a younger option (28). At the right price, the Patriots could add a player who still has some potential, which is valuable for a team looking to get younger. Injuries have hindered his ability to perform at a high level consistently, but the Patriots know how to get the most out of their players. He is another first-round pick that hasn’t fully lived up to expectations, but the Patriots can find a way to maximize his skill-set to make up for the expected departure of Butler.
E.J Gaines (2017 team: Buffalo Bills)
Another former Ram could also be on the team’s radar this off-season. E.J Gaines is another option for the Patriots if they miss out on some of the other top free-agent options. Entering only his fourth year in the league, Gaines has impressed with his coverage, and is another sure tackler like Johnson as he finished last season with 59 total tackles. He has yet to play a full 16 game season, but he is still strong player that is physical despite his size (5’10”, 190 pounds). The Patriots have had found success in the past with smaller corner-backs (Malcolm Butler), and can do the same with the Missouri product. While he could be more effective in the slot, Gaines could provide the Patriots with more depth and versatility to improve their corner-back situation. The Patriots have signed plenty of players away from their division rivals in the past, and can do it again this year. There will be plenty of interest in the 26 year-old, but the Patriots could be a team in the mix to acquire the talented corner-back.
While the Patriots are in need of a corner-back, there is no guarantee they’ll become active in free agency. There is plenty of talent out there for the team to sign, and there are many different directions the team can go. Despite their small cap number, the Patriots can still afford to sign at least one quality free-agent, and the corner-back position could be an area that’s focused on. There are many affordable options out there, and the Patriots will likely be in the mix to acquire some talent to add to their secondary. You never know what the Patriots are going to do in free agency, but many of these players could be potential targets for a Patriots team in need of a No.2 corner-back to line up on the outside.