It's no secret that the Achilles heel of the New England Patriots has been the secondary over the last few seasons. In 2012, the Patriots' secondary improved drastically after Bill Belichick opted to start rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard opposite mid-season acquisition Aqib Talib.
Unfortunately for Belichick and the Patriots, Talib is one of the top free agent cornerbacks on the market and could leave Foxboro for megamoney elsewhere. To make matters worse, Dennard was found guilty of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest -- charges stemming from a bar fight last April which caused Dennard's draft stock to fall to the seventh round.
Since assaulting a police officer is a felony charge, Dennard could face up to six years in prison. Dennard's sentencing will take place on Apr. 11.
Undoubtedly, Dennard will face a suspension from Roger Goodell, on top of a potentially prolonged stay in a penitentiary. Belichick and the Patriots will likely go through the offseason assuming Dennard will not be apart of the 2013 Patriots -- which could be a major problem for New England.
Though the Patriots have roughly $17 million dollars of cap space currently, they have to take care of impending free agents Wes Welker, Sebeastian Vollmer and Talib -- and now have to deal with adding another cornerback to replace Dennard.
At the least, Belichick will have options. The hoodie-donning head coach could opt to return Devin McCourty, who spent much of 2012 as a free safety, back to corner. The Patriots could then attempt to sign either Charles Woodson or Ed Reed to replace McCourty at safety, while adding veteran experience at a position that desperately needs some type of leadership, and Belichick's feelings of Reed are pretty well documented.
Reed and McCourty are both free safeties, which is one of the potential hangups in a Reed-to-New England scenario. If McCourty moves back to cornerback, where earned Pro Bowl honors as a rookie, then Reed could step into New England in the free safety role he's familiar with.
Belichick could instead keep McCourty at free safety, and either re-sign Talib, or go after another free agent corner, such as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. As with anything in New England, the price has to be right, and it's possible that DRC's price tag could be out of New England's price range. Talib and Rodgers-Cromartie are the two best corners on the market this offseason -- and it's quite possible that the Patriots sign neither.
It's far more likely that the Patriots re-sign Talib than sign another high-profile free agent corner. Though Talib comes with off-field baggage, he's a relatively proven commodity in Belichick's defense -- and the same can't be said for any of the other top corners on the market.
Regardless of what the Patriots do in free agency, it seems pretty likely that Belichick will spend his first-round draft pick (No. 29 overall) on a defensive back. In SB Nation's latest mock draft, the Patriots selected Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- who could also possibly play safety in the NFL too.
Unfortunately for Belichick, this is the year that the Patriots are short on draft picks. The Patriots only have their first, second, third and seventh round picks this year.
Given New England's lack of success at developing wide receivers, it seems likely that the Patriots will attempt to re-sign Welker and perhaps keep Brandon Lloyd and use their draft choices on defensive help -- specifically in the secondary.
Belichick could very well target another troubled cornerback to replace Dennard in the middle rounds -- LSU's Tyrann Mathieu.
The Patriots have to replace Dennard, and could end up needing to replace Talib too. Belichick will need to be creative this offseason with a shortage of draft picks and questions to answer on the offensive side of the ball. If anybody can fix this potential mess, it's Belichick -- and this offseason certainly figures to be one of the most pivotal offseasons in recent history for the Patriots.