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Patriots face a big decision with Talib

New England Patriots v Houston Texans

HOUSTON, TX- DECEMBER 01: Aqib Talib #31 of the New England Patriots defends against the Andre Johnson #80 of the Houston Texanson December 1, 2013 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

Thomas B. Shea

Last year, Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib hit the open market. And he ultimately returned to New England on a one-year, $5 million deal.

Next month, that contract expires. And Talib once again will become a free agent.

Per a league source, early indications are that the market will be more robust for Talib in 2014 than it was a year ago. Which will require the Patriots to step up, if they want to keep him.

It’s unclear whether that will happen. Owner Robert Kraft recently addressed the situation on 98.5 The Sports Hub from Radio Row in New York.

“Well, we want to retain all the good players we can retain,” Kraft said, via Tom Curran of CSN New England. “It’s not like we have unlimited funding so . . . He wasn’t on the field a lot of the time since he’s been with us. It’s a balance of us balancing all that out and what is he worth. I think he’s happy here and would like to be here and we’re happy with him and we’d like to have him here and now it’s just about doing business.”

Last year, Talib appeared in 13 regular-season games. And after he exited the AFC title game following a hit from Broncos receiver Wes Welker that prompted an uncharacteristic outburst from coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ defense simply couldn’t keep up with the Denver offense.

Talib’s situation presents a separate concern. Although he has been well behaved since being traded to New England in 2012, Talib has a history of off-field incidents that could make the team less inclined to make a long-term investment, given the Aaron Hernandez fiasco. If they do -- and if Talib reverts to his past behavior -- the Patriots will look even more foolish for trusting a guy with a bad track record.

Other teams may be willing to take that risk, especially since other teams didn’t pay Aaron Hernandez big money less than a year before he allegedly committed murder.

The Pats have an exclusive opportunity through March 8 to negotiate with Talib. As of March 11, he hits the market.

The reality is that, by if not before the Scouting Combine, Talib will have an idea as to what will be behind Door No. 2 as of March 11, if he chooses not to accept whatever the Pats put behind Door No. 1.