By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots have spent the past two seasons proving a lot of doubters wrong, after they jettisoned Darrelle Revis and replaced him at the No. 1 cornerback slot with Malcolm Butler. But a little further under the radar (outside of New England, anyway) has been another win for the Pats, as they replaced Brandon Browner at the No. 2 spot with Logan Ryan.
The former third-round pick out of Rutgers has developed into a nice corner at the NFL level and one of the better No. 2’s in the league. Especially when tasked with simpler assignments in man coverage, Ryan has often excelled, even at times against top receivers like the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins.
Ryan has had his share of off days in a Patriots uniform, but in two seasons as the full-time No. 2 corner he has done a solid job and will earn himself a nice payday as an unrestricted free agent. Will that payday come from the Patriots? The Patriots would like to keep him, but he could prove too expensive.
OTHER PATRIOTS FREE AGENTS: Dont’a Hightower | Martellus Bennett | Alan Branch | LeGarrette Blount | Michael Floyd
Here’s a look at his free agent situation:
What did he make in 2016? Ryan earned a base salary of $1.661 million in 2016, plus a $10,000 workout bonus.
What’s his value on the open market? With NFL teams seemingly always in need of good cornerbacks – and at the very least, someone solid and reliable for one of the top-2 spots – Ryan is bound for a massive salary bump as a free agent. He may not be worth a No. 1 cornerback-caliber salary north of $10 million, like the Broncos’ Aqib Talib ($11 million) – but no reasonable observer would blame him if he took such an offer, should it present itself.
Realistically, Ryan’s worth in a free-agent contract is closer to that of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (5 years, $35 million) or the Titans’ Jason McCourty (6 years, $43 million), and even that would place him squarely in the top-20 highest-paid corners in the NFL. But after the Texans’ A.J. Bouye sets the market, Ryan’s real value will become clearer.
What’s his value to the Patriots? In the Patriots’ hierarchy, Ryan remains the No. 2 cornerback and the team’s third-best defensive back behind Butler and Devin McCourty. As well as Ryan has played in the past two seasons, it’s highly unlikely that the Patriots would reward him with a lucrative extension worth $10-15 million annually. Butler is still just a restricted free agent, but value-wise, he remains more of a priority to re-sign than Ryan.
The Patriots have depth at the cornerback position beyond Butler, but not necessarily depth of talent. If Ryan departs, the likely No. 2 corner for 2017 as of now is Eric Rowe, who was not the most consistent cornerback but ultimately had a solid game in the Super Bowl. He played strong coverage on Julio Jones when the Falcons receiver made his unbelievable circus catch late in the fourth quarter.
Justin Coleman is still in the fold, but was inconsistent at best in 2016. Cyrus Jones was probably expected to be able to take over one of the top spots in the secondary by 2017, but his disastrous rookie season may have the Patriots re-thinking things. The Patriots surely have the cap space (about $62.9 million, according to Spotrac) to extend themselves to keep Ryan around, but it would be unlike Bill Belichick to do so with a guy who does not rank in the top tier of players in terms of importance.
Why wouldn’t the Patriots keep him? He could prove far too expensive. Cornerbacks on the open market get paid, plain and simple, and in many cases they get overpaid to fill a need. Unless the Patriots can convince Ryan to take a more team-friendly contract, it’s likely that they will have plenty of competition around the league for his services.
Conclusion: The Patriots have a bit of a quandary with Ryan. They need to pay Malcolm Butler at some point and he will certainly cost even more, and if they also want to pay Dont’a Hightower then that would probably leave Ryan on the open market. It could leave the team vulnerable at the cornerback position, but they’ve been in that spot and proven people wrong before.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.