The Patriots should franchise tag DB Aqib Talib.
Talib would get approximately $11 million next season if the Patriots franchise tagged him. Talib had a great 2013 season and he is a shut down corner that can allow the Patriots to be more flexible and versatile on defense. The issue with Talib is his past. In 2008, Talib got into a fight with Cory Boyd while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2009, Talib struck teammate Torrie Cox (who was trying to keep the peace) near the eye while swinging his helmet in an altercation with Donald Penn. Also in 2009, Talib was arrested in St. Petersburg for simple battery and resisting arrest for assaulting a taxi driver from the back of a cab. In 2010, Talib had to be restrained after getting into a heated argument with a game official, following a costly penalty in a close loss to the Baltimore Ravens. In 2011, Talib and his mother Okolo were charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a fight with Talib’s sister’s live-in boyfriend. In 2012, the NFL suspended Talib for four games for violating the league’s policy on using performance-enhancing substances. Talib released a statement saying he took Adderall without a prescription. Talib did not have any real issues with the Patriots and they would love to have him back in 2014, but they probably do not want to give him $20 million guaranteed or a long-term contract.
The Patriots may be able to help create some cap space through Vince Wilfork, Stephen Gostkowski, Dan Connolly and hopefully Aaron Hernandez (not likely). They have around $123 million in salaries for the top 51 contracts slotted to go against the salary cap next season, with the salary cap presumed to be close to $125 million–plus an extra $5 million the Patriots can roll over from the 2013 season.
What may be a difficult choice is to restructure Wilfork’s contract, but it is something the Patriots need to do. Wilfork is due $11.6 million in 2014, the final year of his contract. Wilfork is important to the Patriots’ defense, both through his play and leadership, but he will turn 33 in the fall, is coming off of a season-ending ACL tear, and his main job on the field is to stop the run and run-stopping defensive tackles just aren’t as important as they used to be — the NFL is a pass happy league right now. Plus don’t forget, even with Wilfork’s ACL tear, the Patriots still finished with a 12-4 record and made it to the AFC Championship game. If the Patriots cut Wilfork they would save $8 million against the cap, but is that really the smart play? No. The Patriots should, and I’m assuming do, want him on their roster, just not at $11.6 million next season. The Patriots need to try to extend Wilfork’s contact by five years and get his cap number somewhere around $4 million-$5 million for 2014.
Gostkowski should certainly be on the Patriots’ roster in 2014. Gostkowski is also entering the last year of his contract, and is one of the top five kickers in the NFL. What should the Patriots do? Just like with Wilfork, the Patriots should try to sign Gostkowski to an extension and try to lower his $3.8 million that will go against the cap in 2014.
Connolly’s $4.083 million that will count against the cap in 2014 is too high after the average/subpar season he had at right guard in 2013. Connolly will be 32 in the fall and is also entering the final year of his contract. The Patriots could try to restructure and extend Connolly’s contract, but they could create $3 million in cap space by cutting him. I believe the Patriots should and will cut Connolly.
Hernandez sits in jail awaiting trial for the murder of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez has also been linked to a 2012 double homicide. He was cut by the Patriots in the offseason, but his $7.5 million salary due in 2014 counts against the cap. It is possible the Patriots could get a partial or even full refund on Hernandez, but I seriously doubt that will be resolved in time.
The Patriots should try to clear cap space for 2014 and franchise tag Talib. This would give the Patriots a shutdown corner in 2014 without any long-term risk or too much money guaranteed.