Caveat Emptor

[In response to yesterday's article about Talib, here is Mr Scratch's response to it.]

Aqib Talib’s first six games this season was a sight to watch. He effectively was “shut down” CB. His game clinching interception against the Jets, his ability to limit Julio Jones (at least mainly) and make the game ending pass break-up, shutting out Jimmy Graham… it was some great work early.

Now comes the difficult question: does New England re-sign him? Here are some things to consider before making a impulse buy.

Market Dynamics
No positional market is as ambiguous as CB this year. Two short off-seasons ago the cornerback market was thriving. The top two players to reach the open market were Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan. They each received 5 year contracts for $50M. At 27 years-old Eric Wright received $37.5M over 5 years contract. At 30 years-old, Carlos Rodgers parlayed a one year “prove it” deal into 4 years and $29M. Extensions were signed a year early for Lardarius Webb (6/ $53M) and Jason McCourty (5/ $43M). The market for CB was rolling along (the way had been for several years leading up to then).

Then the 2013 FA period began and it all changed. Chris Houston, Shaun Smith, Keenan Lewis, Derek Cox and Cary Williams all came away with remarkably similar deals in the $5M+ range per year. Talib, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Brent Grimes all decided to take one year deals in that $5M neighborhood to try to re-establish value with each having a black mark on their 2012 season. That’s a lot of players getting almost the exact same money and quite a difference from where the market had been. Now those three will rejoin the market where the list of players scheduled to join them includes: Alterraun Verner, Sam Shields, Vontae Davis and Charles Tillman this year.

Inversely to the supply factor is demand. And in that: the Dolphins, Jets, Bengals, Browns, Colts, Jaguars, Raiders, Packers, Redskins and Vikings are all well positioned cap teams who could be looking to add or keep secondary players. On top of that, Tennessee, Denver and Chicago can create the cap space to retain their free agents.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the other teams currently holding the top impending FA CB move to lock them up before FA begins or even use the franchise tag in some cases. That could leave Talib as the definitive top CB on the market among several cap flush teams looking to spend.

Performance/ Durability
Last season is the first time Aqib Talib has ever garnered any post-season awards. At the same time, there was a troubling underlier to that seems to somewhat define Talib overall:

First 6 games: 13-33-186-1-4-28.9
Next 3 games: DNP Injury
Last 9 games (including playoffs) 28-42-480-2-0-121.1

Talib alternately went from great to injured to poor. This isn’t exactly isolated or new. After a great start to his career in Tampa, Talib dealt with injuries, off-field issues and erratic play. After a suspension for PEDs, he was dealt away in the final year of his rookie contract. So far, he has averaged 12.8 GP per season in his career.

In his now 23 regular season games with New England he has already missed 5 while also playing in only 10 of 16 playoff quarters. That translates to an average of 12.5 games per year (almost his exact career average) with questions about how long he can hold-up into the post-season on top (62.5%).

Positional History
The track record of cornerbacks moving into their late 20′s is spotty at best. We can look to this year’s free agent class for examples:

Bears CB Charles Tillman has a long and solid career marked by reasonable durability and was still going strong at 32 until a triceps injury ended his season. Then there’s Dolphins CB Brett Grimes who will re-enter the market at 31 coming off a Pro Bowl season. Yet Grimes has only played 16 games 3 times in his career and only twice as a starter. He suffered injuries in 2011 and 2012 (at 28 and 29) that limited him to 13 games in those years combined. Then there’s a player like Rashean Mathis who started his career playing 16 G in each of his 4 seasons while recording 20 interceptions including Pro bowl and All Pro selections in 2006 at age 26. Mathis’ career went straight down hill from there as he played in 88 games over the next 7 years while recording only 10 interceptions. Then there’s Eric Wright who signed that 5 years, $37.5M contract 2 years ago at 27 years-old. Wright had a very disappointing season in Tampa and was cut one year into his deal. He signed in San Francisco where he was used primarily as depth this season and, although only 29 this year, is barely hanging on in the league.

Marcus Trufant, Chris Gamble, Dunta Robinson and Leon Hall are other examples of players who had fantastic starts their careers, signed significant contracts and soon after (in the 27-28 year-old range) had dramatic fall offs in performance and health. And largely these had been very durable players to that point. The 6’1/ 200 lbs/ 4.4.5 40/ 40 inch vertical Chris Gamble had 24 interceptions in his first 6 seasons while only missing 3 games to that point. A year after he signed a 6 year, $53M extension he saw injuries hi and a drastic drop in play as he missed 18 games over the next 3 years while onlt recording 3 interceptions. He retired last year at age 30.

To an extent, New England already went down this road recently. Leigh Bodden, coming off a very good season in Cleveland was traded to Detroit where he signed a 4 year, $27M extension. After one rough season the Lions cut him loose and the Patriots picked him up for $2.25M. At 28, he had a stellar 2009 season for the Patriots who thought they were stuck at CB that off-season and had to re-sign Bodden giving him a 4 year/ $22M contract with $10M guaranteed. He played 5 games over the next 2 years before his career was over.

The scary thing about Talib is he already comes with injury flag at this point which seems to be about the age many cornerbacks simply start breaking down.

Return On Investment
Myth: A top paid corner is a good way to fix or solidify your pass defense…

The New York Jets lost all world CB Darelle Revis early in the season in 2012 after posting the 3rd best passer rating against (PRA) in 2011. Behind a (legitimate) Pro Bowl year from Antonio Cromartie surrounded by low to mid priced filler they hardly missed a beat fielding the #7 PRA defense in 2012. This year #9 pick Dee Milliner and Cromartie were both awful and the Jets posted the #20 PRA.
In 2012 the Bears posted the #2 PRA in the league behind Pro Bowl seasons from both Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. Both played well this year, but not as well, and Tillman missed half the season. The Bears dropped to #21.
The Buccaneers secondary was a mess in 2012 finishing #27 in PRA. They made huge off-season investments there, primarily in Darrelle Revis, and the $25M total they spent got them to #22 this year.
The Houston Texans have top paid CB Johnathan Joseph and after finishing 10th in PRA last year they dropped to 23rd this year. And Joseph is one of the few “mega FA deals” that has worked out fairly well.
The Rams paid Cortland Finnegan a huge salary and in 2012 were a fairly mediocre 14th in PRA. This year, with Finnegan struggling and then injured, they were #24.
The Packers were a stellar pass defense in 2012 with the soon to be FA Sam Shields, big money CB Tramon Williams and 2nd round find Casey Heyward as they finished 4th in PRA. This year Heyward went out early and despite Williams and Shields they finished #25.
The Cowboys paid a ransom to Brandon Carr, have a highly paid slot CB in Orlando Scandrick and moved up to get Morris Claiborne #6 overall. They’ve finished the last two seasons #29 and #26 in PRA.

Reality: Unfortunately, simply paying top players at CB does not guarantee much of anything.

Conversely, out of all of the top 10 teams in passer rating against there were only 3 players with free agent contracts or extensions that had an average annual value of over $6M. One was Pro Bowler Brandon Flowers, another was the barely average Carlos Rogers and the third was Leon Hall who played 5 games all season.

The Carolina Panthers were 10th in passer rating against and didn’t have a single secondary player who played more than 2 games and had a cap number above $1.1M.

Conclusion
Right now, New England’s situation is that they need to clear cap space just to be in a position to operate this season and retain mid to low market free agents. Barring cutting Wilfork or a gift from the caps gods, any plan to get reasonably substantial cap space would include borrowing from the future. A Talib signing itself would include borrowing from the future as the deal would likely include a good sized sign bonus, back loaded payments and sizable guaranteed money. Unfortunately, there is not much to borrow from as things will continue remain touch and go with several large salaries already on the books and players on deck for new deals.

At this point it seems quite likely that one year is not the death knell of the CB market and things will bounce back. Although, given the evidence, it would be quite understandable if teams are far more cautious moving forward. That said, multi-year contracts at $7-8M seem fairly realistic with $9M still in play for some of this years group.

While every signing comes with a modicum of risk, this one seems particularly risky at a point where New England really can’t afford a large misstep. I have seen the question: How do you replace Talib? And neither the question nor the answer is very simple. But in a nutshell, it all depends on which Talib you are replacing. The one in the first six games? You likely can’t no matter what you do including re-signing Talib. He’s never consistently maintained that level before. The one in the next 3 games? You already did. The one in the last 9 games? With anyone.

And that naturally begs the most difficult and pertinent question: How do you know which Talib you’re signing?

Related Posts

1159 comments
Clark12to87
Clark12to87

Evil Gronk

HBO

Soprano's best show of all time IMO (Drama)

True Detective is outstanding as well.

frankestein
frankestein moderator

New Post ----------------->

Clark12to87
Clark12to87

By PFF (I know they know nothing about football and all but ....)


McCourty was their #1 safety for the season. His 7 pass defended lead all NFL safeties.

Gregory finished #25 (out of 86 EIGHTY SIX!!!) He only allowed 258 yards on the season (2 more yards than McCourty's 256.) Gregory missed a total of 10 tackles but there where 44 NFL safeties with as many or more missed tackles. Our old pal James Ihedigbo lead the NFL with 18 missed tackles. Maybe the Gregory haters would prefer to have Ihedegbo back instead?

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I met the coach of the purple jets today.  He's a pretty impressive guy.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

If you can't stop the run, you become the Colts D.  Good teams are good enough to attack you wherever you're weak.  So you have to be able to stop both.

DanaDS
DanaDS

I'd rather have a pass rusher or 2 instead of Talib. Besides CJ our d line is filled with run stoppers and edge setters. Since teams aren't running the ball much anymore all those guys are 1 or 2 down players in today's NFL. Put big Vince at DT and surround him with guys that can get to the QB.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I tend to agree on Sopranos as a series.  It did suffer from a few really weak episodes.  But season to season it was really consistently good.

ITS  THOMPKINS  BABY
ITS THOMPKINS BABY

Sometimes stats are misleading or the NFL lacks quality safeties for him to be the # 1 safety .

DanaDS
DanaDS

Eric berry had 10 passes defended so I'm not sure how McCourty led with 7.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

Do they factor run support and different roles that different safeties are asked to play?  Because I think McCourty is good in deep coverage but only average at run support.

Redxabi
Redxabi

@Mike_m235  He is one of BB BFF's. Did you tell him we would like the other Jones brother in NE please?

DanaDS
DanaDS

Pats D got blown out of the playoffs the same way the colts D did.

GoGronkZillaGo
GoGronkZillaGo

CJ95 isn't that good- you can get more pass rushers in the draft - somebody like michael bennett who isn't really a 3 down player is going to cost upwards of $6 million a year.

ITS  THOMPKINS  BABY
ITS THOMPKINS BABY

Stop talking about good locker room and special teams guys like that .

Clark12to87
Clark12to87

I think it has more to do with people having short memories. I would think the avg joe struggles to remember much before the playoffs. Perhaps a few snaps per game stand out in their mind. 

So those few snaps (for better or for worse) in their minds becomes reality to them.

DanaDS
DanaDS

Weddle had 9 too

Clark12to87
Clark12to87

Yes. Yes they do.

McC 

+14.1 coverage

+2.2 run defense

+.06 pass rush

+1.8 penalty 

This is an example. This is also why I try not to overload people with data and I also try to save typing time for myself.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I didn't.  It was funny...one kid asked him about Flacco's 22 interceptions this year and what went wrong.  He didn't want to talk about it much, but said they need to get better along the line.

Mr Scratch
Mr Scratch

@GoGronkZillaGo  I'd try to keep things in perspective  Not many players have 17+ sacks by the time they turn 24

DanaDS
DanaDS

CJ isn't that bad either. As far as getting to the passer I think he's the best we have. Whether it's through the draft or FA we need 1 or 2 pass rushers. The time Peyton had in the pocket vs. us compared to the Seahawks was ridiculous.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

You should check out The Shield if you haven't seen it.

Clark12to87
Clark12to87

I loved the psychological side of it. It was my favorite part about the show. What makes people tick is fascinating to me.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

Those and a couple of the other ones where they focused in on Tony's feelings too much. 

But yeah, that whole storyline was kind of weird.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I think PFF does a good job of getting a guy measured in the right range.  You can disagree if you want that McCourty was the #1 overall safety (I kind of disagree myself) but you can't take him out of the conversation.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

So one final question clark.  Do you believe personally that McCourty is the best safety in the NFL.  You can have your choice of any safety right now for the same exact price and you take McCourty?

Clark12to87
Clark12to87

That is a PD. As is swatting it down before it gets there.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

Pass defensed is also kind of a judgment call.  If Thomas pops a guy and he drops it, to me, that's a PD.  Not sure it counts though.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

You'd think that A starting safety would get more than 1 just by accident.

DanaDS
DanaDS

Earl Thomas also had 9 and antrel rolle had 12.

Clark12to87
Clark12to87

Well that is the NFL for you. They love to inflate #'s. See tackles.

DanaDS
DanaDS

Well according to the NFL's official site eric berry had 10 in 15 games.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I don't know what the numbers mean exactly, but that kind of matches what MFF thinks.  Good in coverage, average against the run. 

It's really hard to judge safeties.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I agree that if he continues to improve it will be pretty awesome. 

Mr Scratch
Mr Scratch

@Mike_m235  I don't know that I consider him "average" but even still, average for a 23 year-old who wasn't a Top 10 guy is pretty good.  They have 2 first rounders who have been solid contributors here in 2 years and both hit 24 next year.  That's pretty good shape in the cycle  It's also something to remember if we look to solve DT in the draft

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I like him and want him on the team.  I'm not debating that.  I just think he's a pretty average NFL DE, which is okay, given what he's paid and his experience.  He has more upside, I think, too.

Mr Scratch
Mr Scratch

@Mike_m235  Well, first of all, that begins with consistency which is a lot to ask of a second year guy at such a young age  Again, he's still in the process of developing  ie.- Everyone is pumping Bennett and Johnson as FA.  You know what they each did in their first 3 years in the league?  Nothing.


But, that is also somewhat the life of a pass rusher.  Impact comes on a small number of plays but it's a big impact when it does.  


And top of that, he's one of the top run stopping DE in the game.  


All things considered, there's far more to like than not.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

For me, his sack numbers are okay.  It's the stretches of games where he just disappears that worry me.  A good rotation might help that though so he doesn't play so many snaps.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I don't see Collins as being even close to an option at safety.

DanaDS
DanaDS

I think he's capable. I'm not saying he's chancellor, he's an all pro, but I think he has the body and athleticism to play SS.

ITS  THOMPKINS  BABY
ITS THOMPKINS BABY

The last time he played safety was in high school , Kam is a natural strong safety .

DanaDS
DanaDS

He has played safety. Gregory isn't great in coverage either, or McCourty for that matter. Collins can be used in a chancellor type role in some packages. They have the same body but Collins is faster, quicker and jumps higher. He didn't look bad at all in coverage to me in his rookie year.

DanaDS
DanaDS

I wanna see Collins play some SS too. Put him in the box and mix it up between blitzing and dropping into coverage. Let him punish receivers on crossing/pick/slant routes.

GoGronkZillaGo
GoGronkZillaGo

I'd rather have him develop both pass rush and pass coverage skills (Collins)

Hightower needs to get more comfortable in the defense - losing Mayo put too much responsibility on him and I think he didn't play as well because he was trying to communicate at the same time. Mayo in that role could let Hightower focus on bringing pain to offenses

ITS  THOMPKINS  BABY
ITS THOMPKINS BABY

Don't understand why they want Collins dropping back more , I think he's more of a rusher than drop back guy .

GoGronkZillaGo
GoGronkZillaGo

PFF ranked #31 for our pass rush (Atlanta ranked #32)

Hightower has a quick first step and can explode and power through blockers.

DanaDS
DanaDS

I didn't even know it ranked 31, that's just horrible. Collins looks like he has potential rushing, HT looks too slow.

GoGronkZillaGo
GoGronkZillaGo

I'd agree our pass rush sucks - ranked #31 -but if we have a steady back 4/5 we can send more on a blitz and give different looks

CJ95 needs to progress and we need to look to add some rotational guys that go from the end and also rush from the inside. Collins and Hightower need to progress as blitzers as well

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

People just tend to go overboard with their opinions...like nobody is just okay.  They're either great or they suck. 

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

I've said that Jones is pretty average quite a bit here without anyone flaming me.

Mike_m235
Mike_m235

Dude (Arrington)  is tough, though. 

Clark12to87
Clark12to87

@ITS THOMPKINS BABY

Saying a PATS player isn't good will get you crucified on here

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Unless it's Arrington, Gregory, any DB other than Talib. Edelman, Amendola, the offensive line and the interior defensive line.

GoGronkZillaGo
GoGronkZillaGo

How is Nate today? Anything new to hype or report?

GoGronkZillaGo
GoGronkZillaGo

they can try and crucify me ...but as the messiah of Patriot talk I won't go quietly into the good night