It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Bill Belichick names Jonathan Jones a starting cornerback next to Stephon Gilmore in 2018.
But considering the recent rumors involving the Pats and some high-profile corners set to be available in the coming days, it’s quite possible that Jones – and the other Jones, Cyrus – remain behind Gilmore and a second corner on the depth chart in 2018. The question is who that second corner is, and how they go about getting him.
The one virtual certainty in the Patriots’ cornerback group is that Malcolm Butler is going to sign elsewhere as a free agent. This was true even before Belichick’s stunning decision to leave him on the sidelines for every defensive snap in Super Bowl LII. Now, it’s pretty much the accepted reality – and reports indicate that the Pats are already looking elsewhere for that second corner spot, and they appear to be aiming pretty high. So let’s go over what could happen in the next week or so as NFL free agency is set to begin.
The Big Names
The Pats have been well-documented in reports this week as interested in two of the biggest names and best players at the position. One of them, Aqib Talib, is already familiar with the team and is reportedly interested in returning if the Broncos end up releasing him. The other, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, is on his way out of Seattle, whether he ends up in Foxboro or elsewhere. (UPDATE: Sherman signed with the 49ers on Saturday, and the Patriots never reached out.)
Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reported on Thursday that Sherman is likely to be released before the start of the league year next Wednesday, March 14 – perhaps as soon as Saturday. The Seahawks haven’t been able to find a legitimate trade market for the 29-year-old three-time All-Pro, who is coming off Achilles surgery and would be due $11 million next season. Sherman also isn’t interested in restructuring his current deal, either, according to Gregg Bell of The News Tribune in Seattle. (UPDATE: The Seahawks have informed Richard Sherman that they will be releasing him on Friday, according to Adam Schefter.)
As for Talib, well, the reports allude to a possible trade market still existing for him. That’s despite the fact that he’s 32 years old and due $19 million over the next two seasons. So that’s hard to believe, but if the market does exist then the Patriots are apparently one of the teams involved in it. Still, if either Talib or Sherman ends up a free agent this weekend, then there’s a good chance that the Pats will at least make a push to bring them in. (UPDATE: Talib was traded to the Rams late on Thursday. Clearly, this story was ready to run before that happened. So much for Talib – but Sherman is still on the table as of Friday morning.)
On The Market…
Beyond Talib and Sherman (and Butler), the cornerback market in free agency will be strong in 2018. It’s not terribly likely that the Patriots make another splash for a high-priced cornerback like they did for Gilmore on day 1 last year. But if they wanted to spring for a long-term deal with a young, talented corner to park next to Gilmore, the names will be out there.
There’s 28-year-old Trumaine Johnson, who would essentially be another Gilmore as a big outside corner who excels in press-man coverage. But his price tag will almost certainly be at or near the top of the market. Prince Amukamara (28 years old) could be another option as a physical corner who may not make many plays on the ball, but will certainly bring a similar Talib-esque level of toughness. If the Jets can’t sign Morris Claiborne, he could be an affordable high-upside option despite lacking size and failing to live up to his draft status.
If the Patriots end up going the veteran route, Johnathan Joseph, Brent Grimes, and Tramon Williams could be out there.
What To Expect
Ideally, the Patriots go bigger than the more flawed players named here. If they’re going to “take a chance” on a guy, it’d better be on Talib or Sherman. And if they go for Johnson or Amukamara, they would arguably make an upgrade over Butler.
But they do seem to realize that they need to replace Butler with someone not currently on the roster. The Super Bowl, at the very least, had to have shown them that. Jonathan Jones will be a nice No. 3 corner for them next season – and in a perfect world, he’s lining up next to one of the biggest names out there.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Salary information via Spotrac