This time of year, football fans get to turn the clock back a bit.
Way back. To when they were little kids strapped in a shopping carriage. Back when every aisle brought a new item for you to thrust a pudgy, snot-encrusted finger at and scream, “I WANT THAT!”
Calm reasoning? You weren’t having it. The logic offered -- too expensive, poorly made, you already have one at home -- did nothing to quell the craving.
When the carriage rolled past and the item was ignored, the pouting began.
“I never get anything . . . "
It was the price exacted for having been kidnapped and taken to Stop & Shop in the first place.
NFL free agency hasn’t even started ("legal" tampering began Monday), but there’s already been a measure of kicking and screaming locally as the Patriots are imagined to have pushed their personnel carriage past two “name” cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib and Richard Sherman.
Talib landed in Los Angeles via trade; Sherman signed with San Francisco after being released.
Talib wanted to play for Bill Belichick or Wade Phillips. The Broncos made the wise choice and sent him to Phillips and away from the AFC.
Sherman, meanwhile, signed an incentive-laden contract with the first team he visited. It was a deal he negotiated himself. In Peter King’s blow-by-blow account of the negotiations the Patriots are never mentioned as a possible suitor, though Sherman lobbied Pats players last offseason to put in a word for him about coming to New England.
In short, not interested.
There were laments that the Patriots were effectively outflanked by the Rams on Talib and didn’t get in the game on Sherman. Meanwhile, they were also beaten in the race for Michael Bennett by Philadelphia at the end of last week.
So there were weekend cries of “What are they dooooiiiinngggggg?????” on social media. So the kids are already beet-faced and kicking in their carriages.
Now there’s another corner on the market that could hypothetically fit the Patriots coverage shortcomings. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- released by the Giants -- was a second-team All-Pro in 2016 after moving to slot corner. Prior to that, he’d been an outside corner and a pretty good one. The Giants tried to slide him to safety last season but Rodgers-Cromartie wound up being a lead irritant in New York’s Season of Great Dysfunction.
Do the Patriots need Rodgers-Cromartie? Probably not. He’s 31, he didn’t want to take a pay cut from $6.5 million to stay with the Giants, he was a pain in the ass last season and -- because he’s built like a praying mantis -- he doesn’t love contact.
But anyone who watched the Super Bowl -- and there were a lot of you -- would agree that the coverage situation’s got to change.
(That it could have conceivably been changed THAT DAY if 2015 Pro Bowler and 2016 second-team All-Pro Malcolm Butler was allowed to ply his trade as he did on 98 percent of the defensive snaps during the year is a thicket of confusion we don’t need to enter right now . . . that game was a preview of a Butler-free secondary).
As Phil Perry noted on Saturday, corner’s a concern but it’s not even the top priority for this offseason. Linebacker, left tackle and quarterback should all trump it.
That’s thanks in part to the big-ticket free agent signing the Patriots made last offseason, Stephon Gilmore. After his slow start, he was lockdown by the end of the year.
As for the rest of the crew, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones give the defense enough talent to absolutely get by -- especially if Cyrus Jones comes back from his ACL and plays without letting his head get in the way. And there are draft options as well.
To me, the defense’s greater shortcomings are everywhere but the secondary.
More aggression in the front seven might mean an end to pedestrian quarterbacks looking like stars when they get up against the New England defense.
It would be nice if third-and-8 felt like a bad down-and-distance for opposing offenses. In the playoffs, the Patriots' three opponents went 14-for-27 on throws when the down and distance was between third-and-3 and third-and-10. They were 9-for-20 on third-and-(6 to 10).
If the Patriots were considering Bennett -- whose on-field disruptiveness can only be beneficial if the defense is attacking rather than reacting -- maybe that’s a sign of a change to come now that Matt Patricia’s gone to the Lions.
The Danny Shelton addition over the weekend was a low-cost move with the potential for high returns. Regardless of why he was rendered moot in Cleveland -- scheme, conditioning, motor, technique -- the size and athleticism are there and he can fit in where Alan Branch was.
If you want to tally up the moves made so far, Shelton hits a bigger area of need. Regardless of how much of an upgrade Talib and Sherman could be over Rowe and Co., they would have come at a decent cost and could potentially have gummed up the works with other signings.
Like with Nate Solder. The tampering with the best tackle option on the board has begun in earnest:
Interest in Nate Solder has - unsurprisingly - been off the charts. Texans and Broncos would appear at the head of the class (in addition to the Pats).— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) March 12, 2018
The Patriots let him hit free agency, which means they'll give other teams a chance to set the market and then have to pay to keep him. It worked in the case of Dont'a Hightower last year. It nearly didn't with Devin McCourty in 2015.
The Patriots have north of $20 million in 2018 cap space available. Solder is going to get offered a deals by someone that -- if the Patriots match -- will chew away at that cushion significantly.
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If they don't and Solder goes elsewhere, the Patriots will save money at the spot but also be reduced to projections and hope as to who takes over for Solder.
In short, if you want to kick, scream and throw your Nuk during free agency, you'll probably have your chance. But don't do it over cornerback.