Before free-agency officially kicks off with the start of the new league year on Wednesday, we're answering a series of questions the Patriots could be asking themselves. Last week, we hit on tight end and if Jimmy Graham is a fit. Then we asked if Super Bowl champ Nigel Bradham is just the linebacker the Patriots need. We also asked if Vikings free agent running back Jerick McKinnon could be in the Patriots plans. On Monday, we look at whether the Patriots can improve on the edge without making an over-the-top investment.
Today we're gauging the cornerback market for the Patriots. We know they missed on Aqib Talib. We know they passed on Richard Sherman. But who else is out there?
First and foremost it's worth wondering the Patriots will add anyone here, period. They have Eric Rowe, who they clearly like. He saw time on Julio Jones in Super Bowl LI. He replaced Malcolm Butler in Week 2 of the regular season. He replaced Stephon Gilmore in Week 4 before being injured on the first snap of the second half. There's reason to believe he's considered a capable No. 2.
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Beyond Rowe and Gilmore, the Patriots will have Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones in the mix for playing time as well as 2017 practice-squadders Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz.
That said . . . Bill Belichick's depth at corner isn't such that he and Nick Caserio can outright ignore the position this offseason. They could opt for a player in the draft, seeing as how it seems like a relatively deep group there this season. Or they could turn to a cost-effective player in free agency.
So who's worth a look?
Someone like Rahaan Melvin might be more the Patriots' speed. He played like a Pro Bowler for the Colts through 12 weeks of last season before suffering an injury, which may drop his number to a place where the Patriots would feel comfortable. Melvin had three picks and 10 pass breakups on 55 targets, leading to a 60.3 quarterback rating against last year.
The Patriots known Melvin well from the eight games he played with the team in 2015, and so they'd understand what they'd be getting in terms of work ethic, practice habits, meeting-room comportment, etc. Melvin had a reputation as an even-keeled player who contributed primarily on special teams during his time in New England, but he showed last year that he could chip in as a capable corner with a long 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame.
Morris Claiborne and Prince Amukamara, both 28, are out there as well, but it's unclear what the market will be for the former first-rounders.
If the Patriots would rather look for someone to help them in the slot, there are a handful of players with good experience there. A couple of other former Patriots, Robert McClain (who spent training camp with the Patriots in 2015) and Leonard Johnson (four games with the Patriots in 2015) is available for slot duties.
Adam "Pacman" Jones has some slot/punt-return versatility, and he's been informed by the Bengals that his 2018 option won't be picked up. Patrick Robinson, who was key to the Eagles' run to a title, is free.
There are a couple of safeties -- Eric Reid and Kenny Vaccaro -- who can play in the slot as well, and they would provide the Patriots with some insurance and/or competition on the roster for box safety Patrick Chung.
In all likelihood, the Patriots are who they are at corner. Left tackle, edge and linebacker all could be viewed as more important positions to address. But if the Patriots want to add some inexpensive depth to help boost their secondary, options are out there.