Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (26) breaks up a pass for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (15) during the second quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
At cornerback the New England Patriots are moving on from 2014 starters Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner who were expensive one-year rentals. Despite winning the Super Bowl last year, the Patriots chose not to invest almost $20 million dollars per season on the duo. In a surprising move they also said goodbye to slot cornerback Kyle Arrington and former starter Alfonzo Dennard.
Dennard took over as a starter in week seven as a rookie in 2012 and was major contributor in 2013 starting eleven games. Last year he came into camp buried behind Revis and Browner and never was able to get healthy and contribute regularly. Arrington was the regular third cornerback much of 2014 just as he had been since earning regular playing time in 2010.
Now the Patriots’ depth chart has second-year cornerback and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler facing off with 2013 third round draft pick Logan Ryan. Both are talented and athletic but inexperienced. To bring in some veteran leadership at the position, the Patriots picked up two solid players in former Atlanta Falcons slot cornerback Robert McClain and former Philadelphia Eagles top cornerback Bradley Fletcher.
Dec 7, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher (24) gets a pass interference call against Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89) during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports
Fletcher had a bad reputation after last year with the Eagles as he was often left on his own in single coverage with no safety help against some of the top receivers in the game. Getting beat in single coverage by Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant, and Larry Fitzgerald is more an issue with the defensive game plan than the cornerback. No one other than Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman would hold-up against those top receivers (even Revis got torched by Nelson a few times in Green Bay last season).
McClain is similar to Arrington as he is solid in the slot but struggled when moved outside. With a price tag of about half of what Arrington was on the books for in 2014, head coach Bill Belichick and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio must have felt comfortable moving on from Arrington.
Behind them, the Patriots have a trio of young players ready to take advantage of an opening for playing time. Rookie seventh round draft pick Darryl Roberts was a star of the OTAs and minicamps. Like Malcolm Butler last year, Roberts was a small school cornerback who stood out with athletic plays in shells and shorts. His pro day was fantastic as he showed off-the-charts athleticism. Roberts will be given a chance in a wide open cornerback competition and could surprise with a solid preseason.
Dax Swanson and Justin Green are two young players who could surprise at cornerback as well in training camp. Swanson was a practice squad player and was signed to a futures contract after the season. He played at Sam Houston State and was on practice squads in Indianapolis and San Francisco previously. Justin Green had a cup of coffee with the Patriots in 2013 and spent most of his time on the practice squad. He was in Dallas most of last year but did not play in the regular season on defense and was released. The Patriots moved quickly to re-sign him to their practice squad and now the duo have an opportunity to earn playing time in 2015.
Next: Position Battle #2: Strong Safety