The New England Patriots worked out four free agents on Friday in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney, and safety Adrian Wilson. The Patriots signed Sanders, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet, and Erika Leigh reported that the Patriots signed Abraham (others like Jeff Howe say a deal hasn’t been finished, so it sounds like both sides have agreed in principle but still have some stuff to hash out). While we don’t know about Freeney (will almost certainly go unsigned), we do know about Wilson’s future for sure.
The Patriots were able to sign Adrian Wilson, and Mike Jurecki reported the news yesterday. The Pats and Wilson reportedly agreed to a three-year deal, which is quite interesting. I love the addition of Wilson, but three years seems like a bit much for a 33-year-old strong safety who showed signs of declining last year.
Contrary to popular belief, it was Wilson’s run defense that suffered last season; not his pass coverage. The Pro Football Focus graded him out positively in coverage, but he was graded significantly low in run defense. The Cardinals, however, viewed his coverage as an issue and thus benched him in nickel packages. Wilson was tracked by PFF with a 44.4% completion percentage allowed in coverage and a 78.8 QB Rating, so I think the Cardinals handled Wilson incorrectly. He did get burned a little bit, but his forte has always been underneath coverage and not deep coverage.
To be honest with you, I do think the Cardinals messed up with regards to utilizing Wilson last season. Either PFF is wrong, or the Cardinals incorrectly evaluated him. Based on his raw coverage numbers above, I am inclined to point the finger at the Cardinals, especially since Wilson was one of the league’s best safeties back in 2011. That was just one season ago, and Wilson was PFF’s second-highest graded safety overall. He had a subpar grade last season and wasn’t great in coverage, but he was still decent in coverage.
Some people are saying that Adrian Wilson should be strictly used in the box by the New England Patriots, and that line of thinking is correct only to a certain extent. The Patriots have an excellent free safety in deep coverage in converted corner Devin McCourty, so they don’t need to use their SS in deep coverage. Wilson is also much better at covering underneath routes and stuff in the intermediate passing game, so he fits better playing close to the line of scrimmage. But make no mistake, Wilson isn’t some deadweight in coverage, no matter what the Arizona Cardinals think. And let’s face it, are we really going to trust the Cardinals evaluations?
Giving Wilson three years may or may not be a mistake, because Wilson is 33 years old. However, that all depends on how the contract is structured, and I am especially curious to see how the financial details and implications for the Pats shake out. I have a feeling Wilson came on the cheap, because the Patriots usually give cheap per-year amounts on long-term deals with no guaranteed money at the end of the contract. That’s the kind of deal I think we’ll see Adrian Wilson getting.
Although he isn’t guaranteed to start, I think Wilson will bounce back and play closer to the level of play he had in 2011. While he won’t have that elite kind of year, he will surely play better against the run and will also be solid in coverage. He’s also an excellent blitzing safety, and he does have a little bit of Rodney Harrison in him. What also appeals to me about Wilson is his fantastic veteran leadership, and he is a player similar to Ed Reed in skill and leadership but most likely at a fraction of the price.
Wilson will really help young and promising safety Tavon Wilson develop, and I think he will grasp the starting spot and capture a mentor-apprentice dynamic with the younger Wilson. This move makes sense of several levels, and the analysis on Adrian Wilson in coverage tends to be superficial. Just because he is a strong safety doesn’t mean he lacks skill in coverage, but conventional wisdom holds true in one aspect of his game- Wilson is much better covering shorter routes. In fact, he’s still good at doing that.
The Patriots will receive positives from signing Wilson in a variety of ways, and I highly doubt the Pats gave him significant money. If they did, then that’s my main source of criticism- giving Wilson a large deal for three years at the age of 33. Although Wilson is technically a declining player, a change of scenery and a better 2013 season will help him bounce back from his 2012 campaign and approach something closer to his 2011 numbers. At least, that’s what the Patriots and I are hoping for. This looks like a very good deal, and the Patriots are hoping that both Wilsons can hit things off as well.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.