Aqib Talib and the great leap of faith
By Michael Hamm
It has been said that when one hits the bottom of the desperation barrel, there is always someone else down there to keep them company. For the New England Patriots, that someone is named Aqib Talib.
Historically, the New England Patriots have taken a tough stance both in contract negotiations and in player’s personal conduct – and do not allow a player’s talent to hold the organization hostage. But have they just put themselves in that position with the acquisition of the talented yet troubled cornerback?
Is this move a sign that the Patriots have become so desperate to shore up their secondary that they have abandoned their resolve to hire only people of good character, or have they joined the rest of the world in understanding that good results don’t always come without some form of compromise?
Regardless, it’s obviously a risk worth taking.
The talent is undeniable – it’s all on film. The moment that Talib walks on the Gillette Stadium turf he instantly becomes the most talented corner to play for the Patriots since Ty Law left after the 2004 season.
The immaturity is undeniable as well – it’s all on his rap sheet. It seems that he has an affinity for firearms and apparently has a short fuse, which is always a bad combination.
Giving up a 4th round pick in the 2013 NFL draft to Tampa Bay for Talib and a 7th round pick doesn’t seem like a steep price to pay for the potential he brings. But where things get dicey is that Coach Bill Belichick is gambling that Talib’s problems are behind him and that he becomes the cornerstone of his plans for restructuring the secondary – not just for this season, but for years to come.
Sep 16, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib (25) breaks up a pass to New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (88) during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE
His presense allows Belichick to tinker with the secondary, to move embattled cornerback Devin McCourty to Free Safety permanently, where he has shown excellent instinct and ability.
In fact, Talib’s impact on the secondary is such that it allows fellow troubled cornerback Alfonzo Dennard to move to the number one corner, covering the oppositions’s best reciever with McCourty doubling over the top while Talib shuts down the other side of the field – and it also allows enough depth for either Patrick Chung or Tavon Wilson to play the Big Nickleback, adding a physical element to the pass coverage at all times.
But if Talib’s immaturity begins to manifest, Belichick’s grand scheme could fall in the proverbial toilet and he’s right back where he started – and that’s where the Patriots could find themselves being held hostage.
Beating up Cabbies, shooting at obscure relatives, ingesting banned substances, fist-fighting with teammates – his history since coming into the league as a 1st round draft pick is well documented, but how long of a leash does Belichick afford Talib before abandoning his scheme? How much would Belichick endure to finally have a solid secondary?
Only Bill knows for sure. But while the product on the field is subject to behavior and playing well with others, the impact on the front office is not nearly as clouded in mystery. If Talib can’t control his criminal activity and is released, the Patriots would be able to recoup their 4th rounder that they gave up to get him through a compensatory selection in the draft, which could quite possibly be as high as a 4th rounder – plus they’ve gained Tampa’s 7th rounder in 2013.
Advantage, Patriots – no matter which way this door swings.
So what this all comes down to is that if Talib behaves, the Patriots have a championship calibre defense with the ability to physically dominate their opponent. If he doesn’t New England moves forward with the Defense that got them this far and they continue to fight their way through, improving weekly through experience and bodies healing and getting back on the field, essentially how things turned out with this unit last season.
If he is all about playing football and being in a winning culture, it’s a win/win situation for both Talib and the Patriots. If not, he shouldn’t be so naive as to think that the Patriots are so desperate that they will put up with his crap for very long.
In that regard, Talib’s leash will only be as long as he allows it to be.