INDIANAPOLIS - I wonder if James Sanders fits in the Patriots "we'd like to have that one back" category.
Released last August by the Patriots, was missed. Now, if people want to shrug and say "alls well that ends well" that's fine.
The Patriots made the Super Bowl and were the No. 1 seed in the AFC. What was the price exacted by not having Sanders at the back of their defense? So what if the Patriots cycled through a long line of try-hard guys who were pretty bad at times? They still had a very good 2011.
The fact Sanders was carrying a 2.8 million salary and had been limited through camp (just four practices) must have made it seem OK for the Patriots to decide Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown were the answers. They weren't and it took a while before James Ihedigbo did emerge as the capable successor to Sanders. The Falcons grabbed Sanders and on Saturday at the NFL Combine, Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said Sanders was "a very good addition."
"We got him late, he was a guy who joined our football team right before the season started, so there was an acclimation period but when he got the opportunity to play, he played well," said Smith. "He was a stabilizing factor in our secondary. I really like his makeup, his skill set as a guy that can play strong and free safety."
Sanders, just 28, goes about his business very professionally. He's no superstar but he's steady.
And the Patriots still have question marks at the safety spot next to Patrick Chung. Ihedigbo is a free agent, Barrett's coming back from injury and Brown is a core special teamer but the Pats don't seem to have much faith in him on their regular defense.
What the Patriots do this offseason at that strong safety spot may be the best indication of whether they do regret letting go of Sanders.