Cornerback Aqib Talib is set to reach the free agency market for the second consecutive year, but just like last year, he might not have a change of scenery, as the New England Patriots could again give him a new contract instead of allowing him to reach free agency.
While it's possible that a knee injury suffered in the AFC Championship Game proved to be his final snap with the Patriots, Field Yates of ESPN reports that there is a mutual interest between the two teams to keep him in New England:
The soon-to-be 28-year-old has previously stated his comfort level and appreciation for playing in New England, and there appears to be mutual interest in bringing Talib back.
When the Patriots first acquired Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a mid-season trade that featured a swap of third day draft selections, it was a low-risk move that netted New England a solid cornerback. While he had a fair share of struggles early with the Patriots, he settled in as the season went on and proved to be a very solid defensive back in the postseason.
The season was enough to earn Talib a one-year, $4.86 million contract three days after free agency began, as the former first round pick reportedly spurned three other offers to join the Patriots on a "prove it"-style deal. He lived up to his end of the deal.
In 13 starts for the team, Talib racked up four interceptions and 13 passes defended en route to his first career Pro Bowl selection and second-team All-Pro honors.
His injury against the Denver Broncos (which Bill Belichick believed to be the consequence of an intentional collision from Wes Welker) proved to be a significant one for the Patriots, as Peyton Manning primarily targeted Talib's replacement, Alfonzo Dennard, for the remainder of the game, racking up 400 yards passing.
Now Talib is set to hit free agency, and he'll undoubtedly want something more than another chance to "prove it."
He is one of a handful of young cornerbacks that have expiring contracts and are set to reach free agency, and Talib has an argument to be the highest paid of the group. He certainly could be in line to be the highest-paid cornerback in franchise history if the Patriots elected to give him a long-term deal.
Asante Samuel was slapped with the franchise tag by the Patriots in 2007 before leaving to join the Philadelphia Eagles on a six-year, $59.475 million contract one offseason later. Ty Law was the recipient of a long-term deal from the Patriots with a seven-year, $51 million deal signed in 1999, but was released in 2005 before playing the final year of the deal.
Assuming Talib isn't seriously injured from his collision with Welker, he could be in line for a bigger deal than the one Law received 15 years ago. And if the Patriots aren't willing to front the bill, another team likely will be.