New England Patriots Off-season Outlook By Position: Part 7 of 8: Secondary


Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots had another frustrating day of free agency as they lost running back Shane Vereen to the Giants and cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Jets. The Patriots have already made a big move locking up free safety Devin McCourty to a long-term contract. In addition, New England used the franchise tag to keep potential free agent kicker Stephen Gostkowski on the roster.


Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (83) runs the ball against New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) and cornerback Brandon Browner (39) during the third quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Long-time defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is a free agent after the Patriots declined to pick-up his option. The team also let cornerback Brandon Browner explore free agency when they declined to pick-up his option as well. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas–who was acquired at midseason from Tampa Bay–also is on his way to New York for a ridiculous three years and $10.5 million contract.


The NFL Draft follows in May, but by then the Patriots will be well into reshaping the roster. Last season New England had a strong foray into free agency bringing in wide receiver Brandon LaFell (74 receptions for 953 yards and 7 touchdowns), re-signing wide receiver Julian Edelman (92 receptions for 972 yards and 4 touchdowns), and re-signing valuable blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and guard/center Ryan Wendell on offense (all stats from unless otherwise noted). On defense Revis was the the crown jewel but cornerback Brandon Browner and safety Patrick Chung brought hard-hitting swagger to the defense.


Dec 14, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Percy Harvin (16) carries the ball against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at LP Field. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

This season the Patriots will need to revamp their defense as they are now missing their top two cornerbacks from their Super Bowl championship team while retaining both safeties. There are other free agents who could stick in New England but may get a look from other teams including their mid-season acquisitions on defense Alan Branch and Akeem Ayers.  Rumors won Tuesday indicated that the Patriots are looking at former Browns linebacker Jabaal Sheard and former Vikings, Seahawks, and Jets wide receiver Percy Harvin in free agency among others.


Looking at free agency needs and the 2015 NFL Draft, this series first addressed the offense by looking at the most important position in part one: quarterback. Part two of the off-season delved into the running back position. Part three kept the focus on the offense and takes a look at the wide receivers and tight ends.  The offense wrapped up with part four taking a look at the offensive line. Part five moved to the defense and started with the defensive line. Part six delved into the linebackers. Part seven looks at the soon to be revamped secondary.




Under contract: Devin McCourty ($6 million cap number); Kyle Arrington ($4.625 million cap number); Patrick Chung ($2 million cap number); Alfonzo Dennard ($1.556 million cap number); Tavon WIlson ($1.342 million cap number); Logan Ryan ($745k cap number); Duron Harmon ($724k cap number); Nate Ebner ($684k cap number); Justin Green ($435k cap number); Dax Swanson ($435k cap number); Malcolm Butler ($510k cap number)


Jan 18, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

In one day the Patriots went from the second best secondary in football to the Seahawks to one with two established starters. Free safety Devin McCourty is an All-Pro and was close to leaving the Patriots in free agency. The front office probably gave him more money than they would have like to but the Patriots have a history of stepping up and paying their own young stars. The Patriots have extended their own draft picks throughout the years including Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and Jerod Mayo.


Mercenaries Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner played a key role last season but the Patriots seem determined to move on in a different direction. Browner being let go appeared to be a precursor that New England was not keeping Revis as he fits an aggressive man-to-man defense, not the zone-heavy look the Patriots will likely go back to without Revis shutting down half the field in 2015.


Jan 18, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (25) breaks up a pass intended for Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) in the second half in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

On the roster the Patriots still have slot cornerback Kyle Arrington to man one-third of the starting cornerback positions. Arrington is underrated by most New England fans but other than the Super Bowl he was a consistent performer throughout the season. Arrington has struggled throughout his tenure in New England on the outside, but has an unparallelled comfort while on the slot. Just ask T.Y. Hilton of the Colts who has struggled to shake Arrington the past two seasons.


The rest of the secondary is currently a big question mark. Patrick Chung had a strong bounce-back season in his return to the Patriots and earned a new contract. Behind him are 2012 second round draft pick Tavon Wilson and 2013 third round draft pick Duron Harmon has been solid as the dime safety and is a valuable backup to McCourty. Nate Ebner is strictly special teams but could fill in at safety in a pinch.


Oct 12, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back Anthony Dixon (26) runs the ball while being defended by New England Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (37) during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

At cornerback former starter Alfonzo Dennard will be trying to put a disappointing and injury-filled 2014 season behind him. Not spending the offseason in jail will help him get ready for 2015 and he will battle 2013 third round draft pick Logan Ryan for playing time. Ryan impressed as a rookie but regressed last season and was a liability by the end of the season.


2014 undrafted free agent Malcolm Butler started the preseason strong and surprisingly worked his way on the active roster. He ended the season with a bang coming on in the second half of the Super Bowl and stepping in for the ineffective Ryan and helping slow the Seattle passing attack. Butler made the game saving interception at the goal line and now will likely be in the mix for more playing time in 2015.


Justin Green and Dax Swenson flashed talent at times, but will have to impress in training camp to make the team.


Need (Low, Mid, High): High


Free Agent Activity:

Dec 28, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie (31) runs through drills in warmups before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi

The free agents are flying off the market in free agency as Revis, Cary Williams, Buster Skrine, Brandon Flowers, Byron Maxwell, Kareem Jackson, Darius Butler, Davon House, and Cary Williams are all off the market.  The Patriots are not going to find an All-Pro like Revis to replace him in free agency and are likely to lean on Butler, Ryan, and Dennard in 2015 for at least one starting position.


The best remaining cornerbacks in free agency are veterans Antonio Cromartie and Tramon Williams. Cromartie can play as a number one, but was banged-up late last year in Arizona. He is also 31 years old and looking for top cornerback money. Williams is a solid cornerback as well but is 32 years old. He played well last year and could be a short term option for a year or two.


Players who may interest the value-conscious Patriots could be Rashean Mathis, Walter Thurmond, Tarell Brown, or Chris Culliver. All have question marks heading into 2015. Culliver missed all of 2013 and teams may be leary of his injury history. Thurmond was strong for Seattle in 2013 but missed much of last year. Brown struggled in 2014, but playing in Oakland could be part of the issue and he could potentially be revitalized in the right environment. Mathis was solid in 2014 but is 35 years old.


The Patriots did not have much of a safety net for losing Revis and jettisoning Browner makes it clear that the Patriots are moving in a different direction in the secondary away from the 2014 group. The team is strong at safety and not likely to make any moves of significance there having locked up McCourty and Chung already. The team may have to look at moving McCourty back to cornerback and inserting Harmon to play deep centerfield. For now, it appears that the trade market (like getting Aqib Talib in 2012) may be the best way to go in getting a top cornerback.



Feb 23, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive back Trae Waynes runs the 40 yard dash and crosses the finish line with all the stop watch timers during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Picking at #32 at the end of the first round limits the options for New England for finding a standout cornerback in the draft. Trae Waynes of Michigan State stands atop the cornerbacks in the draft but will likely be long gone by the time New England drafts. Waynes is fast, has decent size, and is physical. Behind him is Jalen Collins of LSU who has skyrocketed up the draft boards from an early second round grade to a mid-first round grade. Both will likely be long gone by the time the Patriots are on the clock.


Alex Carter of Stanford, Marcus Peters of Washington, Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest, and Ronald Darby of Florida State are part of a muddled mix of cornerbacks who could go anywhere from the end of the first round to the third round. These players all have a lot of review necessary between now and the draft and will likely continue to slide up and down the draft boards.


Carter is a big, physical corner who would fit in New England if they returned to primarily a zone scheme. Darby has elite speed and vertical leap and is solidly built and he has been one of the hottest risers this draft season. He was not a strong tackler, however. On the opposite side is Peters who looked like a first round pick in September and has been tumbling. He has all the physical tools but was kicked off the team in Washington after run ins with the coaching staff. If Peters shakes the baggage he could be a steal. Johnson is solid and smooth on tape and has quick hips. He is not the fastest cornerback but is a gamer who would fit like a glove in New England.


There are other cornerbacks such as Byron Jones of UConn, P.J. Williams of Florida State, and Senquez Golson of Ole Miss who could sneak into the second or third round. Jones is a physical freak who set a world record in the long jump and will draw a crowd on pro day. Williams ran a slow 40 at the combine but is a solid man cornerback with the strength to jam receivers. Golson is short but is physical and a hard hitter. He seems like the kind of cornerback that Bill Belichick could fall in love with very easily.

The need for a cornerback in the draft looks like a desperate need with the loss of Revis and the letting go of Browner. The Patriots may be doubling up at cornerback and using a first and mid-round pick to get talent at the position, especially if they cannot lure one of the few starting quality corners on the free agent market. It has been a seismic shift in the secondary so far for the Patriots and the offseason is still young.