With the start of the new league year and NFL free agency approaching, teams are working hard to clear cap space to position themselves to add new pieces to their roster.
Four veteran defensive backs have already been released today, adding to the market of free agents that could be on the Patriots' radar.
Colleague Mike Reiss recently overviewed the safety and cornerback free-agent classes, and here's a look at four players who became free agents today, with a brief overview of what they bring to the table.
Cornerback Chris Gamble
Bio: Released by the Panthers after eight seasons, the one-time college wide receiver (and defensive back) was limited to just three games in 2012 due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The Boston native has 27 picks in 123 career games.
Role: Gamble was a starting cornerback for the Panthers in 2012, aligning mostly on the left side of the defense. He is best-suited to play on the outside.
Position skills: An instinctive and long cornerback, Gamble's track record of interceptions makes him an intriguing player. He has good ability to match-and-mirror routes on the perimeter of the field, has good speed to work down the field in a bail technique, and has excellent ball skills. He was used sporadically as a punt returner with Carolina.
Patriots take: No position is a bigger need for the team this offseason, and the cornerback market offers a number of veterans. Gamble is 29 years old and has starting ability, which is something the Patriots are interested in. He's not an overly physical cornerback, but he has a nose for the ball and would make sense for the team at the right price.
Cornerback Aaron Ross
Bio: Released by the Jaguars after one season. A former first-round pick of the Giants who has 10 career interceptions.
Role: Ross was a part-time starter for the Jaguars in 2012 as Rashean Mathis missed seven games due to injury. Ross aligned both on the perimeter and as the team's nickel corner in the slot when both Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox were healthy and on the field. He's returned a total of 23 punts over the last three seasons.
Position skills: Ross has good size and sufficient bulk for the position, but had a little bit of a disappointing season in 2012 after earning a big contract last offseason. He has good straight-line speed and ball skills, but can get caught standing up straight at the top of receiver's routes. He's moved back and forth between a starting and reserve role through his career.
Patriots take: Because of the need at cornerback, Ross could garner a look from the Patriots. He's not the answer as a top-tier starter, but he's a viable nickel cornerback option. He has less quickness and change of direction skills than Kyle Arrington, but has better size and length to stay with bigger receivers.
Safety Adrian Wilson
Bio: Released by the Cardinals after 12 seasons, the 33-year old Wilson has been one of the best safeties in football during his career. He's been elected to five Pro Bowls and is one of just six players in NFL history with 25 or more sacks and 25 or more interceptions in his career.
Role: Wilson has an imposing 6-foot-3 and 230-pound frame, which is more common among strong safeties than free safeties. While he was often aligned to the strength of the offensive formation for Arizona during the 2012 season, he also played as the middle-of-the-field safety in some of their single-high safety looks.
Position skills: Wilson remains a dynamic proactive athlete with very good speed and unique instincts. He is an accomplished blitzer with good anticipation for snap counts and the strength to fight through blockers. He's a willing and forceful tackler who can be a big part of a run defense, though he can rely too heavily on shoulder tackles at-times. As a pass defender, Wilson lacks elite range and pattern-read ability, but can still make plays at the point of catch. He's not a liability in coverage.
Patriots take: We'd argue that safety is not as pressing of a need for the Patriots as it may seem, as the team still has 2012 second-round pick Tavon Wilson to play behind Steve Gregory (assuming Devin McCourty remains at one safety spot). Wilson had struggles during his rookie season, but the team saw enough in him early to use him as a starter. Confidence will be the key. Wilson would add toughness and play-making to the defense, but safety is less of a need than cornerback at this point.
Safety Dawan Landry
Bio: Released by the Jaguars just two seasons into a five-year, $27.5 million deal (that included $10.5 million in guaranteed money). He is a former Ravens draft choice and the brother of NFL safety LaRon Landry.
Role: Landry was the Jaguars' starting strong safety in 2012, playing in 16 games and recording 100 tackles to go along with one interception. Like most NFL defenses, Jacksonville had elements of a left and right (as opposed to strong/free) safety tandem, so Landry was at times aligned to the weak or open side of the formation.
Position skills: Landry stands at 6-1 and 212 pounds and is a productive run defender. He shows good vision to diagnose runs and a downfield approach to fill the lane both on perimeter and between-the-tackles runs. He is a sufficient pass coverage player who has 12 career interceptions, nine of which came in just two seasons. A good wrap-up tackler who can quarterback a secondary through its pre-snap adjustments.
Patriots take: The sentiment on Landry is consistent with what we said about Wilson, as the Patriots need for a safety may not be pressing. Given the choice of the two, Wilson would be the call because of his more dynamic overall skill set and superior pass coverage ability.