The Patriots did what they usually do on the first day of free agency – sat on the sideline. Meanwhile, they lost their top cornerback to the rival Broncos, who made two impact moves Tuesday while the Patriots did nothing, and let their top receiver hit the open market.
The Broncos struck a deal late Tuesday night for cornerback Aqib Talib, paying him an eye-popping $57 million deal over six years, with $26 million guaranteed, according to ESPN. The deal leaves the Patriots without a true No. 1 cornerback on the roster, and most of the top options came off the board Tuesday — Tampa Bay signed Alterraun Verner for $14 million guaranteed, and Indianapolis signed Vontae Davis for $20 million guaranteed.
If the Patriots want to replace Talib in free agency, the best option remains Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is expected to be released Wednesday afternoon if the Bucs can’t trade him. Revis is due $16 million this season, but would become a free agent if released by the Bucs and free to sign with any team. He still would command a large contract on the open market, and perhaps could equal or exceed Talib’s deal.
Other, less expensive cornerback options for the Patriots are Antonio Cromartie, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, Cortland Finnegan, and Captain Munnerlyn. It’s possible the Patriots could go with Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, and Kyle Arrington as their top three cornerbacks and find another one in the draft.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are also in danger of losing their top wide receiver for the second year in a row. Last year they let Wes Welker leave for Denver over $1 million, and they are currently at an impasse with Julian Edelman, who will continue to negotiate with the Patriots but also will speak with other teams, a league source told the Globe.
Reports already have linked Edelman to the Browns and Ravens, and the Texans with new coach Bill O’Brien could be a good fit, as well.
Edelman, entering his sixth NFL season, is coming off a breakout year in which he led the Patriots with 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. He also has been a standout punt returner throughout his career, averaging 12.3 yards per return, one of the best marks in NFL history.
Edelman would like to return to the Patriots, but he doesn’t seem intent on giving them a hometown discount. He was a seventh-round pick in 2009 and has been paid near-minimum salaries for each of his five NFL seasons. Last year he barely received any interest in free agency, and he returned to the Patriots on a one-year, league-minimum contract with incentives.
Edelman likes playing in New England with quarterback Tom Brady — the two share the same agents — but after establishing himself as the team’s top receiver, Edelman wants to cash in this time, especially since big paydays only come once or twice in a career.
Edelman could be looking to better the $10 million guaranteed that the Patriots gave Danny Amendola last season.
“It’s just business,” the source said.
If the Patriots move on from Edelman, they still have several options – Hakeem Nicks, James Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, and Kenny Britt likely can be had for relative bargains.
And in an interesting move, the Falcons released tight end Tony Gonzalez, who retired and took a job on the CBS pregame show. The Falcons were forced to release Gonzalez because he never filed retirement papers and was due a $3 million roster bonus this week. Now that Gonzalez is free, it will prompt speculation that he will un-retire and play for a Super Bowl competitor this fall.
As for Talib, 28, he had 1½ productive seasons in Foxborough after the Patriots acquired him from Tampa Bay for a fourth-round pick after the Bucs grew weary of his off-field issues. He played in 19 games in two seasons, compiling five interceptions and 16 passes defended while emerging as the team’s best and most physical cornerback. He shined in the early part of 2013, helping shut down elite receivers such as Jimmy Graham, A.J. Green, and Roddy White, but he missed three games with a hip injury and left the AFC Championship game with knee injuries in both seasons.
Talib’s injury history and off-field issues — he had a four-game suspension while with Tampa Bay — scared the Patriots off his asking price. The $26 million guarantee is the highest among all NFL cornerbacks, surpassing the $25.5 million Dallas gave to Brandon Carr. In Denver, Talib will replace departed veteran Champ Bailey and will face the Patriots in Foxborough next season.
And the Broncos, who defeated the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, may not be done loading up. They entered the day with more than $25 million in salary cap space, signed Talib and front-line safety T.J. Ward, and are the favorites to land pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, who was cut by Dallas. They also hosted former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen on a visit.
The Patriots also didn’t do much with their other free agents and haven’t made any roster cuts or contract extensions, either.
Broncos veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard visited New England Tuesday, according to a Denver radio report, and he could be the replacement for Brandon Spikes, who isn’t expected back after four seasons with the Patriots. Spikes, the team’s second-round pick in 2010, said goodbye to New England and Patriots fans on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s been real, it’s been fun. But it hasn’t been real fun lol,” he wrote. “Thank u to the cities of New England & @Patriots for an amazing run.”
The Patriots also haven’t re-signed center Ryan Wendell, and may lose backup linebacker Dane Fletcher, who visited Tampa Bay Tuesday, according to reports.