You can never have too many corners.
In today's NFL, the use of four and sometimes five wide receiver formations is becoming more prevalent. While here in New England, especially in the past few seasons, injuries have plagued the Patriots defensive backfield.
With this week's (apparent) signing of veteran Tory James, the Pats now have their tallest (6-2) and most experienced corner (entering his 12th season).
James has been quite productive in recent seasons with the Bengals, averaging four interceptions per year in Cincinnati. He had nearly the same number, on average, in three seasons with Oakland, and grabbed seven total picks during his four years in Denver.
But perhaps more important to his new team is James' durability. He's played in all 16 regular season games his entire career, the exceptions being 1997 (no appearances) and 2002, when he played in all but two games.
His exact role with New England won't become clear until training camp begins, but he'll likely contribute significantly, either as a nickel and dime corner, or perhaps even as a starter, if injuries or defections that their toll.
The biggest question mark remains Asante Samuel. Tagged the Pats' franchise player back in February, Samuel initially expressed a desire to work out a long-term deal with New England.
Of late, however, his dissatisfaction with the pace of talks has been well documented. Rumors continue to swirl about his future. Will he hold out? Will he sign the one-year tender with New England? Will he be traded? Will he sign long-term and stay a Patriot?
It's anyone's guess, at this point.
With James and Samuel (at least for the time being), the Patriots have nine corners in their stable. The others are:
· Returning starter Ellis Hobbs, who's hoping for a breakout season as he approaches his third year.
· Chad Scott, who can fill in at either corner or safety, enters his 11th NFL campaign.
· Willie Andrews. The second-year man showed flashes of speed and versatility on defense, special teams, and even as a wide receiver during the 2006 preseason.
· The oft-injured Randall Gay, a promising player who once again is recovering from a season-ending injury and is being courted by the New York Jets. He's been offered a contract with the Pats but has yet to sign it.
· Antwain Spann, an on-again-off-again practice squad player who made several special teams appearances in '06.
· Eddie Jackson, a free agent signee from Miami who's rehabbing from a knee injury. Reports say he may not be available to New England until mid-season.
· And Gemara Williams, a 2006 rookie who spent last season on injured reserve.
It's entirely possible that player personnel boss Scott Pioli and head coach Bill Belichick could add another corner or two at some point in next weekend's Draft. Several talented players might still even be on the board when New England's two first round picks are up.
Michigan's Leon Hall, Texas star Aaron Ross, and Darrelle Revis of Pitt are often mentioned as potential Patriots. Another name that's coming up more and more in Mock Drafts is Fresno State's Marcus McCauley, who's head coach there, Pat Hill, was an assistant under Belichick in Cleveland.
With 10 picks in the 2007 Draft, chances are the Pats roster of cornerbacks will soon expand.
But in New England, there's always room for one more corner.