The Indianapolis Colts and the St. Louis Rams made headlines recently when they released players who had been stars of their respective secondaries for much of the past decade. The Colts released former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, safety Bob Sanders and the Rams released safety O.J. Atogwe, a player they had previously franchised. Since the release of these players, speculation has run rampant in New England in the local sports media and on message boards on the possibility that the Patriots could bring in one of these players. The question is: should they? Is it a need?
A casual look at the Patriots’ roster would suggest that safety is near the bottom of their list in terms of need. Patrick Chung is a second round pick entering his third year and until a leg injury caused him to miss time, he was becoming an impact player at the position. Brandon Meriweather made the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row, despite seeing his playing time decrease throughout the season due to too much free-lancing on the field (and possibly his hat). Most Patriots fans agree that his Pro Bowl nod was undeserved. Meriweather has one year remaining on his current contract. James Sanders rounds out the Patriots’ top three safeties and had a solid season, making 58 tackles, forcing a fumbling, and snagging three interceptions, two of which were game-clinchers. His contract is also up after the coming (?) season. The remainder of the safeties are, at this point anyway, regarded as depth/special teams players.
Judging by the top of the roster at the position, there is really no need for the Patriots to pursue either Sanders or Atogwe. However, Bill Belichick has always said that he makes decisions based on what he feels is in the best interests of the team. There’s no predicting what exactly Belichick feels is in the best interests of the team. If the team can avoid a bidding war for Bob Sanders’ services, a short-term, heavily incentive-laden deal could bring the safety over for depth and leadership. His recent injury history should preclude any big contract, at least from the Patriots. Sanders has already visited the Jaguars and the Bills, and if they have begun making any substantial offers, you can likely count the Patriots out.
Atogwe is a more intriguing prospect. If Bill Belichick feels that he will lose either Meriweather or Sanders or both players, signing Atogwe could be a long-term solution to pair with Patrick Chung. Atogwe is a solid, play-making safety. Last season, he made 73 tackles, had 2 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. The signing of Atogwe would likely have to include the trading or releasing of either Meriweather or Sanders, for both contract and playing time issues. The issue, as always, would be the numbers and what Atogwe is asking for. Atogwe has started his team visits as well, meeting Tuesday with the Washington Redskins.
Depending on what Bob Sanders and O.J. Atogwe are asking for, the Patriots could make a run at either player to try and further boost its secondary. Sanders is a high risk/high reward possibility due to his injury history while Atogwe is a safer signing with more potential long-term impact. Would you try and make a run at either of these players if you were Bill Belichick?