Seventh installment in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 11.
Level of need: Moderate-to-high
Why Carroll fits: Good size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), the right age (27) and has experience (26 career starts in 4 years). The Patriots know him well from facing him twice a season. He isn’t a No. 1 corner, but could vie for a starting role in the event Talib isn’t back, and will likely command much less financially.
Why Rodgers-Cromartie fits: Has solid man cover skills and the ability to match up in a similar way as Talib, although he isn’t as strong/willing against the run.
Why Talib fits: The Patriots have worked with him since November of 2012, he knows the system, game-plans have been partially built around his ability to match up with various types of receivers, and he added a lot to the team both in the meeting room and on the field. His return is a top priority; it’s just a matter of if the market increases to a point that the Patriots, with some concern over Talib’s injury history, aren’t comfortable going.
Other names of note: Tarell Brown (49ers), Brandon Browner (Seahawks), Antoine Cason (Cardinals), Chris Cook (Vikings), Antonio Cromartie (Jets), Vontae Davis (Colts), Corey Graham (Ravens), Jabari Greer (Saints), Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers), Asante Samuel (Falcons), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks), Charles Tillman (Bears), Alterraun Verner (Titans)
Franchise tag: none
Market conditions: This is a strong class in free agency, especially at the top. In the draft, analysts believe teams will find quality into the middle rounds.
Questions to answer at the position: If Aqib Talib isn’t back, how do the Patriots fill the void at the top of the depth chart? How much will Alfonzo Dennard’s offseason be affected by his time in jail? Can Logan Ryan build off his rookie season into a permanent starting role?