Many New England Patriots fans were happy when Adrian Wilson signed with the team. They thought that they were getting a veteran strong safety who had once been known as one of the best all-around players at his position. Wilson was coming off a rough season with the Arizona Cardinals, but so what? He was still a hard-hitting, no-nonsense safety. He could have an impact much like Rodney Harrison did. Well, I’m not so sure.
After reading a report today that Wilson was on the roster bubble, it made me think back to the Patriots’ last preseason game against the Detroit Lions. What I remember is Wilson missing a tackle on Reggie Bush in the flat. Bush stopped and started, getting right around Wilson, who barely grazed Bush’s left arm. And that’s where I saw the reason for Wilson getting cut after so many great seasons with the Cardinals. He is slow and old. Wilson plays like a classic strong safety, one who can step up in the box and deliver a big hit. But that’s not good enough anymore.
In today’s NFL, safeties have to be multidimensional. The times where coaches have the classic free safety playing center field and a classic strong safety in the box are over. Strong safeties have to be able to drop back into coverage a lot more than they did in the past. This is because more NFL offenses feature three-receiver base packages and often go into four-receiver packages as well. Instead of enforcing the run, strong safeties have to cover one of those eligible receivers (preferably a tight end). Such is a strong safety’s life in what is now a pass-first league.
Wilson doesn’t cover well at all. That is why he was released by Cardinals general manager Steve Keim. Keim realized that Wilson is not only getting old (33), but Wilson’s lack of coverage skills don’t cut it with most NFL offenses passing it around 60 percent of the time. So that makes Wilson a part-time player, one who is mostly useful on obvious running downs. And since there is basically no such thing as an “obvious running down” in the NFL anymore, Wilson’s role is hard to define.
The only thing that might save Wilson is the lack of depth at safety on the Patriots roster. Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory are definitely the starters at free safety and strong safety, respectively. Tavon Wilson is the third-best safety, despite what some may say. That leaves Adrian Wilson as the fourth-best safety on the depth chart. Bill Belichick might consider $1 million too much of a price to pay for a fourth safety, but I think you have to take the talent here. What you know is better than what you don’t know, so Wilson might be better off sticking to the roster than the likes of Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner. However, even if Wilson survives the final cuts, he will barely do so. And that’s the way it should be.