Inquiring minds want to know if a certain possibly soon-to-be free agent will make a trek out to Foxborough to help shore up a depleted New England defensive backfield. That player is Lenny Walls, who was just waived by the Denver Broncos on Monday.
We caught up with Walls' agent, and a couple of Denver beat writers who are familiar with his situation, to find out if the big defensive back might actually become available to the Patriots this season. At that time, Walls' agent, Peter Schaffer, confirmed that his client was on a special designation of injured reserve that required the Broncos to release him once he healed from a groin injury. Once healthy, Walls would be placed on waivers and subject to claims by other teams, we were told. If a team claimed Walls, they would assume the remaining portion of Walls' current contract, a one-year $1.43 million restricted free agent tender similar to what David Givens, Tom Ashworth and Stephen Neal are playing under.
Why claim him when he can be had for less?
Simple. Other teams might be interested in his services. After all, Walls was the starting cornerback for the Broncos before his injury. He only became expendable because the Broncos younger defensive backs Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth have exceeded expectations. It also doesn't hurt that Champ Bailey is a fixture at one corner.
Should Walls join a team via free agency, he would have his pick. According to his agent, that would be one of the teams with solid playoff possibilities.
"He hopes to join a team that needs a player with his skills and help them win the Super Bowl this season," said Schaffer.
Might that be the Patriots?
"Lenny would be honored to play for a fine organization like the Patriots," Schaffer continued.
What about the contract? Wouldn't Schaffer want any team that claimed him to renegotiate the current contract?
"We would talk to the team to discuss the possibility," Schaffer confirmed. He then elaborated on some of the possible scenarios on how a team could claim Walls and he would play under that contract while discussions "hopefully" ensued about adding more years to the contract.
Contracts and extensions are some issues a team has to consider in signing Walls. Physical limitations might be another.
At 6'-4", Walls is every defensive coordinator's dream to defend fade patterns in the end zone. So we asked Bill Williamson of the Denver Post why the Broncos would release Walls considering his physical attributes. Williamson had recently interviewed Walls, and was familiar with both the team's decision and the defender's recent performance.
Here are Williamson's thoughts:
- - The Broncos placed Walls on the reserve injured (to be released) list because the player asked for that.
- - The Broncos have a number of young players who have stepped up, and an injured Walls wasn't going to get back to the field anytime soon. The Broncos felt that they were all set with their current players, so releasing Walls wasn't a big deal for them.
- - Walls is a big player, at 6-4 he's one of the tallest DBs in the league, and can make plays. Denver began the season with Walls as a starter until he got hurt. According to Bill, "The guy can play." He's no scrub is how Bill described Walls, he's just not needed right now.
- - Walls has to clear waivers once his release is official. He can't be released until he heals from a groin injury that sidelined him. (That release was official Monday)
- - Walls is playing under a tender contract, which carries a $1.4 million salary that not a lot of teams will want to absorb unless they have a shot at the playoffs. Considering he would be a free agent after the season, maybe no team except a playoff contender would put a claim in on him.
To confirm Williamson's observations, we talked to Michael John Schon of Broncos Update for another insider's perspective.
"The biggest factor in his release was the concern about recent injuries," Schon suggested. "In 2004 [Walls] sat out most of the preseason with an ankle injury then suffered a separated right shoulder, limiting him to only 7 regular season games before being placed on IR. When he came into camp this year he strained his groin, then seemed to fall further down the depth charts being outplayed by some of the rookies."
If the rookies beat him out, then the injury could be the main culprit for his diminished performance.
"Not exactly sure how serious the groin strain was, but I did notice a drop off in speed during coverage compared to previous years," Schon remarked.
The Patriots have already had injured defensive backs that were barely able to play on gamedays. They dealt with it by placing them (Duane Starks, Randall Gay, Chad Scott and Guss Scott) on injured reserve. They signed new bodies off the street (Hank Poteat, Arturo Freeman, Artrell Hawkins and Michael Stone), in an effort to shore things up. A recovering Walls couldn't be any worse.
The Patriots defense turned in yet another subpar performance against the Chiefs this week, allowing Trent Green to throw for 323 yards. That placed the Patriots firmly in 31st place against the pass, slightly ahead of the 2-9 San Francisco 49ers.
Even if Walls isn't the answer for the Patriots' secondary, it can't hurt to let him have a chance to show his stuff.
Schaffer believes a number of teams are interested his client, but with an estimated $450K left on his current contract, those teams likely will have to wait until after he clears waivers due to salary cap restrictions.
Walls has 48 hours to clear waivers before teams can negotiate with him. You can bet New England is on that list of teams.
Note: readers of the forums learned about the Walls rumor almost two weeks ago. Be sure to check out the "Ask The Insiders" thread where PI readers keep up to date with the latest rumblings around the NFL, and get their answers from the experts.