Patriots head coach Bill Belichick very much regards Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib as “the one that got away.”
In NFL free agency in 2014 – Belichick and the Patriots were outbid by Denver as Talib inked a six-year, $57 million contract with $26 million in guaranteed money. Talib certainly worked out for the Broncos as they went on to win a Super Bowl title with him, but now the chickens have come home to roost on that fat contract. With the Broncos desperate to sign a quarterback this offseason (rumor has it that John Elway is ready to dump a barrel of money on Kirk Cousins’ lap), they need to release several of their more high-priced players – and Talib will likely be the first to go.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have a glaring need for an upgrade in their secondary as evidenced by Nick Foles and the Eagles offense doing whatever they wanted to do in the Super Bowl. Placing Talib opposite Stephon Gilmore (who came into his own down the stretch of this past season), would instantly give the Pats one of – if not – the best cornerback tandems in the NFL.
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Adding fuel to the fire that Talib could return to the Patriots is that Belichick has uncharacteristically gone out of his way to fawn over Talib in recent years – despite the fact that he spurned the Pats in free agency.
“He’s a really good player," Belichick said of Talib in 2016 (via NESN). “Does everything well. Put him on anybody. He’s long, he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s got great ball skills, he tackles well, he’s smart. He’s got great football instincts, great defensive instincts. Put him on whoever you want. The guy’s one of the top corners in the game, and he has been for quite a while. He does everything well.
“I think he helps any team that he’s on,” Belichick continued. “He helps the guys that play against him get better and helps the guys on his side of the ball with the confidence and the communication, effort, attitude and toughness that he plays with. He’s a tremendous football player. He would help any team, I can imagine. He would help any team in a lot of ways.”
With rumors persisting that Belichick “lost the locker room” this past season – particularly with the benching of Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl – Belichick could instantly change the Patriots’ locker room dynamic and end the “THEY DON’T HAVE ANY FUN!” silliness by bringing Talib back. Talib is regarded as one of the better locker room guys in the NFL, and still has plenty of fans on the Patriots.
“Quite frankly, it’s kind of funny (playing against Talib), because we’ve had such a good relationship here,” Julian Edelman told NESN. “I loved him here as a teammate, and he kind of cracks me up. But he’s competitive, feisty, very instinctive, savvy. And it’s one of those things where you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to do things right, or he’s going to expose you … He’s one of a kind. He’s a good dude.”
In Talib’s final game as a Patriots – a loss in the AFC title game to the Broncos – Belichick also uncharacteristically called out a player on the other team, ripping into Wes Welker.
It’s certainly a mutual admiration deal here, as Talib says that playing for Belichick and the Patriots “made him a man.”
“One thing I have to say about that establishment over there [in New England]. They’re very professional,” Talib told ESPN in 2016. “You go there for one season and your professionalism will go up a plus-2. If you’re at seven, you’ll be a nine.
“[Being with Belichick] definitely helped my professionalism as far as preparation for the game, how to handle the media, my behavior on the field – everything,” Talib continued. “I really learned how to be a professional over there. I went there a seven and came out a nine. I’m working on being a 10.”
Talib’s wife, Gypsy, agrees.
“Once he got with Bill Belichick, it was a [total] change. When he got there, he turned,” Gypsy told The Denver Post. “We had a son when he got traded there, but honestly, it was all him. I wish I could thank Bill Belichick more because he helped him mature very much.”