The Carolina Panthers released one of the better cover corners in the NFL today in Chris Gamble, who is a 29-year-old veteran who allowed a ridiculously low QB Rating against of 53.3 in the 2011 season. The Panthers are finally under the cap after having the second-worst cap situation in the NFL behind the New York Jets, but the cost of the release is deep for them. They now have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, and they lost one of their best players and one of the better shutdown corners in the league.
I would have used “best” instead of “better” to describe Chris Gamble in the paragraph above, but Gamble played in just four games last season due to a severe shoulder injury. Set to turn 30 on Monday, the former Ohio State standout might have reached his ceiling in 2011, but that was certainly a high ceiling. That year, only Darrelle Revis played better at the cornerback position, as Gamble was tracked by the Pro Football Focus with just a 45% completion percentage allowed. He had more interceptions (three) than touchdowns allowed (two) as well.
Gamble’s exceptional season in 2011 and impressive track record will make him one of the most coveted CBs on the market. I expect suitors to immediately start calling for Gamble after his release, and some fans are intrigued by the prospect of John Fox and Gamble reuniting with the Denver Broncos. I don’t see it, though, because Fox placed Gamble in the doghouse before he was fired, and Gamble’s huge year that was a resurrection of his career in 2011 came in Ron Rivera‘s first season. Rivera was willing to give Gamble more of a chance, and I think the Fox-Gamble connection will get overplayed.
But anyway, let’s take a look at the New England Patriots. Aqib Talib will want to hit the open market, because he knows he is set to get overpaid by somebody. Talib is regarded as one of the best cornerbacks to hit the open market, and I think he is the fourth-best impending free agent CB behind Brent Grimes, Chris Houston, and Chris Gamble respectively. If you factor in age, then Talib trumps Gamble only due to age and upside.
Talib did a nice job helping the Patriots defense down the stretch, but how much of that was really specifically related to his play? It’s best to read this piece I wrote on Talib, because it is difficult to re-write over 1,500 words.
So Talib wants to hit the free agent market, and I have a bad feeling that the Patriots won’t be able to sign him. I hope Talib sticks around because he has shutdown potential, but I think a team is going to throw a lot of money at him and bloat up his asking price from other teams like the Pats.
Gamble, however, will come at a cheaper cost due to his age and the shoulder injury last season. I usually call injury concerns overblown (like the ones regarding Darrelle Revis), but Gamble will be 30 next season and that’s a fair question mark. But all you have to do is look at his talent (53.3 QB Rating allowed in 2011), and the fact that Gamble won’t be making nearly as much bank as he did in his final contract with the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots also have uncertainty regarding Alfonzo Dennard‘s future, but I doubt he will miss any time next season.
So is there room to sign a veteran like Gamble? Definitely, because Talib is going to walk soon and having two young corners starting in Dennard and a rookie like Johnthan Banks would most likely be too young. The Patriots are rumored to be interested in Banks with their first-round choice, and they could definitely pick up a corner in the draft. But if Gamble can come at a good enough price for the Pats, then I could see them picking up the veteran corner. Signing Gamble has some risk associated to it, but it isn’t as risky as drafting a young CB- the larger issue is finance. Grimes and Houston are the two CBs at the top of my wishlist (not including re-signing Talib), while Gamble is third. Since Grimes will most likely stick with the Atlanta Falcons, Gamble looks like a more likely option.
It’s all very interesting, and I really want to hear some thoughts from you guys. So speak up and let your voice be heard on Chris Gamble in the comments section.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.