Alfonzo Dennard's felony conviction of assaulting a cop, and the misdemeanor for resisting arrest, now puts the Patriots in a precarious position.
The team won't know how long, if at all, he'll be imprisoned until his sentencing April 11. At that point, free agency will have been open for a little less than a month.
The Patriots now have three players in their secondary whose fates are up in the air. Dennard is facing up to a maximum six years in prison on the two charges, while the team also has to consider free agent cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington.
How valuable is Talib to the Patriots now? And for that matter, how valuable is Arrington?
Talib is one of three possible franchise tag options for the team, including offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and wide receiver Wes Welker. Whether the team overreacts and tags Talib is unknown. But the price for tagging cornerbacks is costly. Tagging Talib would cost around $10.7 million. With an estimated salary cap of a little more than $16 million to deal with 18 free agents, the price of making such a move could change the underbelly of the team.
The Patriots have to make a decision on who they can use the tag on by 4 p.m. March 4.
The team does have options, though. Devin McCourty can be moved back to cornerback, while Tavon Wilson can take on more duties in the secondary. (Patrick Chung is also a free agent and his return is unknown.) Cornerback Ras-I Dowling is also expected to return after suffering a season-ending thigh injury. McCourty and Dowling were initially envisioned as the Patriots' starting cornerback duo when Dowling was drafted in 2011. But that plan spun off the tracks when Dowling suffered back-to-back season-ending injuries and the secondary struggled.
The Patriots also have five picks in the NFL draft, which begins April 25.
Dennard is in a pickle here and he'll likely do some time. Being convicted of assaulting a police officer is nothing to smirk about. His options here on out are limited.
But despite his conviction, and the position it puts the Patriots in, the team has a bit of maneuvering room if the development of younger players like Wilson and Dowling are a priority. Dennard's potential loss gives these younger players opportunities.