Recently released veteran Charles Woodson would be the perfect addition to the New England Patriots Nickel defense. Head coach Bill Belichick is the ideal multiple-front defensive play caller to take advantage of Woodson's versatility.
The highly decorated defensive back is still a stellar performer at the age of 36. He would fill various roles in the Patriots hybrid, nickel schemes. One of Belichick's favourite fronts is a "Big Nickel" package.
This involves two linebackers and five defensive backs. One of those defensive backs is a hybrid player, expected to combine the attributes of a nickelback, safety and linebacker. Few players perform that combination as well as Woodson.
During his time with the Green Bay Packers, Woodson has been a dangerous weapon in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' zone-blitz schemes. Woodson has played all over the formation and been particularly useful in the slot.
Belichick currently lacks a versatile slot defender. Kyle Arrington lost his job as a starting corner and struggled to cope with the demands of playing in the slot. Woodson meanwhile, can blitz, and cover wideouts, tight ends and running backs.
His ability to supplement the pass rush as a blitzer, would be particularly useful to the Patriots. Belichick and coordinator Matt Patricia showed a greater willingness to blitz this season.
Having a weapon like Woodson, who can threaten and create pressure from various angles, would be invaluable. Woodson can also help a nickel front stay strong enough to repel the run.
He plays bigger than his 6'1", 202-pound frame. So he is able to operate close to the line and threaten an offense with blitz and run force looks. Those are vital qualities when defenses are being forced into playing nickel more often on early downs.
Woodson is also perfect for another wrinkle Belichick loves to apply in nickel formations. He often deploys a true cornerback as a deep-lying free safety. He did it with Everson Walls, while defensive coordinator of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV and has used Devin McCourty in the role in New England.
Woodson made the positional switch to safety for the Packers last season. His range and savvy helped improve the Packers deep coverage. Green Bay ranked 11th in pass defense, compared to last in the league in 2011.
The Patriots pass defense needs that kind of help. They ranked 29th in the NFL in 2012. Belichick's secondary surrendered 74 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Most of the problems were at safety.
New England's safeties often took coverage drops that were either too deep or too shallow. They also often took bad angles in coverage. In particular, the deep middle was an area numerous teams exploited against the Patriots defense in 2012.
Placing Woodson at the pinnacle of the nickel coverage schemes would fix this serious issue. It would be one more way for Belichick to use Woodson's versatility to boost his nickel packages.
The 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year's age and salary might put some Patriots fans off. NFL.com's Kareem Copeland has reported that Woodson was set for a $9 million salary this season.
However, the Patriots have the room to justify a cap hit for the veteran cover man. According to ESPN.com's John Clayton, the Patriots have cap space worth up to $18.6 million. They ought to be able to work out a reasonable, restructured deal for Woodson.
More importantly, time is running out for the key members of the Patriots roster to win the franchise's fourth Super Bowl. Their best player on either side of the ball, Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork, are both over 30.
The timing is right for Belichick to add a player who can get the Patriots back to the Super Bowl now. In the past, he hasn't been shy about relying on veteran defenders, such as safety Rodney Harrison.
Improving their defense, particularly the pass defense, has to be the offseason priority for the Patriots. That means strengthening the personnel and versatility of their nickel packages. Adding Woodson is the perfect solution for Belichick.