Saturday, February 4, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Cornerback

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

In this entry, I'll examine the top safeties expected to hit the open market next month, as well as some other notable names at the position.

1. Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons

An undrafted free agent out of Shippensburg back in 2006, Grimes actually played in the now-defunct NFL Europa before establishing himself with he Falcons. Five years later, he's arguably the best cover corner in the league not named 'Darrelle Revis.' He plucked just one interception in 2011, but opposing quarterbacks could do nothing against him and teams don't throw his way nearly as often anymore. Just 28, Grimes will get a big contract from the Falcons or another team.

2. Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee Titans

After a down year in 2010 that saw him rank 99th among NFL cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus, Finnegan jumped back up to No. 3 spot behind Revis and Grimes this season. He's one of the best tackling corners in the league and and can cover about as good as anyone too. A split with the Titans seems likely, so he'll probably land elsewhere as a No. 1 corner.

3. Carlos Rogers, San Francisco 49ers

A top-10 pick by the Redskins back in 2005, Rogers has battled a few significant injuries in his career but remains a quality corner at 30. Able to land just a one-year deal with the 49ers in 2011, Rogers hauled in six interceptions and held opposing quarterback to a 61.9 passer rating for the league's No. 2 scoring defense. His age and durability might work against him, but he should be able to land a well-paying three-year deal on sheer talent and production.

4. Brandon Carr, Kansas City Chiefs

After struggling mightily as a rookie fifth-rounder in 2008, Carr has quietly put together three consecutive strong seasons in Kansas City. He hauled in a career-high four interceptions in 2011 and his 61.7 opponents' passer rating ranked fifth in the league among full-time corners. Still just 25, Carr will have no shortage of suitors on the open market.

5. Tim Jennings, Chicago Bears

A second-round pick of the Colts back in 2006, Jennings toiled as a backup for much of his carer until arriving in Chicago in 2010. But it was the 2011 season that really saw Jennings break out, as he started 15 games and was one of just two starting corners in the NFL this season (along with Baltimore's Lardarius Webb) to not allow a single touchdown. His size (5-8, 185) and lack of production prior to 2011 will turn some teams off, but he's shown he can hold his own in this league.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Jason Allen, Houston Texans — A first-round bust in Miami, Allen has had his positive moments in nearly two seasons with the Texans. He still doesn't look like a starting corner, however, but he could appeal to someone as a nickel back.
  • Will Allen, Miami Dolphins — Allen returned to the Dolphins during the 2011 due to injuries and ineffectiveness, but Allen himself has little left in the tank. It might be hard for him to land a contract until the regular season begins.
  • Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers —The 36-year-old Barber hasn't missed a start since 1999, but he can no longer run and cover as well as a starting corner should. It seems unlikely he could secure a starting job away from the team that drafted him, but perhaps he can find a short-term gig.
  • Zackary Bowman, Chicago Bears — Bowman started 12 games and hauled in six interceptions back in 2009, but he hasn't been able to recapture that magic and has been a reserve over the past two seasons due to ineffectiveness. It seems he might be best suited for special teams and a backup job.
  • Chris Carr, Baltimore Ravens — A year after starting all 16 games for the Ravens and grading out as one of the better corners in the league, Carr fell out of favor in the Baltimore secondary and was surpassed by a rookie first-rounder on the depth chart. The former return specialist could be a bargain for someone, but consistency is an issue.
  • Kelly Jennings, Cincinnati Bengals — A former first-round pick by the Seahawks in 2006, Jennings has failed to show he can start in the NFL despite numerous chances to do so. He's fizzled in two locations now and will have a hard time getting chances.
  • Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals — Jones' off-the-field issues have been chronicled for years, although he has stayed out of trouble during his two years in Cincinnati. He has good natural talent but he tends to be streaky with very good games and very bad ones. Some teams won't even bother just based on history, but he should find an opportunity.
  • Richard Marshall, Arizona Cardinals — Marshall was a second-round pick of the Panthers in 2006, but he has consistently failed to perform well in coverage and he's not good against the run. The 27-year-old has raw talent but he's running out of chances.
  • Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville Jaguars — It's kind of amazing Mathis has made it this long as an NFL starter, because he hasn't been able to run in years. Durability is also a concern, but he may be able to finagle one more starting gig just based on experience.
  • Tracy Porter, New Orleans Saints —The hero of Super Bowl XLIV, Jennings actually had a horrendous season in coverage in 2011, ranking near the bottom of the league by allowing 71.2 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. He's still just 25, however, and has a lot of starting experience, so plenty of teams will want to continue to develop him.
  • Aaron Ross, New York Giants — He might be starting for the Super Bowl champs, but the former first-round pick has graded out as a sub-par corner every season of his career and allowed six touchdowns this season. He also has durability issues at 29, though someone will probably take a flier on him with four interceptions on an elite team in 2011.
  • Lito Sheppard, Oakland Raiders — A two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Eagles, Sheppard has bounced around with three teams over the past three seasons and no longer offers starting ability. The 30-year-old will not find many suitors.
  • Donald Strickland, New York Jets — The 31-year-old Strickland has never started more than eight games in a season, and that was as a rookie with the Colts in 2003. However, remains a capable dime back and shouldn't be an expensive signing.
  • Terrell Thomas, New York Giants —Special teams have killed the 2008 second-rounder's career, as he played in just two games as a rookie and missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL. He struggled as a starter in 2010 but was a top-10 corner the year before, so plenty of teams will want the 27-year-old if he can prove he's healthy.

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