From a perennial first-team All-Pro to serviceable role players, and just about everything in between: The defensive backfield is one of the deepest areas in this year's free agent class. And that depth extends to both the safety and cornerback positions.
The good news for the Cleveland Browns is that this comes in a year where they are among the teams with the highest amount of available cap space. The bad news is that one of their best defenders, T.J. Ward, is adding to that depth and could be on the verge of playing in a different uniform.
Ward is easily one of the best run-stopping safeties in the league, yet doesn't make himself a liability in pass coverage. He's not a ball hawk, instead doing most of his best work in the box. He has dealt with injuries in the past, but when healthy, he's a true difference maker.
The loss would disappoint many in Cleveland and rightfully so. But if it had to happen, this is the year for it. Solid-to-great replacements will be available in free agency. Can Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine manage reel one in?
- Jairus Byrd (27) BUF – Much has already been said about the possibility of Byrd opting to sign with Cleveland. He thinks highly of Pettine and the feeling is mutual. But Byrd also wants to win, and the Browns aren't exactly known for their stability. Byrd is not only an elite ball-hawking safety, he's also one of the best players overall in free agency this year. He did miss the first five games last season dealing with plantar fasciitis, but bounced back and finished strong with four interceptions and a forced fumble. He's going to come at a very high cost that's likely to make him the highest paid safety in the league. The Browns have the ability to make that happen and the additional flexibility to work around it.
- Donte Whitner (28) SF – Donte isn't called "Hitner" for no reason. He is a similar style of safety as Ward, but of course comes with much more wear. Despite that, this eight-year veteran played one of his best seasons last year, both against the run and in coverage. Will the Cleveland native consider returning home?
- Louis Delmas (26) DET – Although he's coming off one his best seasons yet in Detroit, after signing a two-year contract extension last year, Delmas still found himself on the chopping block this time around. He did manage to start all 16 games a season ago, but his degenerative knee condition was likely enough to scare off the Lions. He's good when healthy, but it's a big risk.
- Chris Clemons (28) MIA – Clemons is a solid, reliable NFL safety. He's not an elite playmaker, but he's still a sufficient starter, which could be what the Browns are looking for if they're trying not to dump a lot of money into the safety position, or if they can't manage to land someone higher on this list.
- Antoine Bethea (29) IND – Despite being one of the older player's on this list, Bethea hasn't lost a step and remains one of the most consistent all-around safeties in the league.
- Alterraun Verner (25) TEN – Verner has everything a team could want in a free agent corner. He's young, durable, very talented, and playing in his prime right now. This also means he's going to go at a premium. The Browns probably aren't looking to spend that kind of money on their No. 2 CB. Verner has the ability to be a legit No. 1 and will get paid like it.
- Aqib Talib (28) NE – Talib has had an up and down career, but it's been generally quite good when he's managed to stay on the field. He's dealt with injuries and an Adderall-related suspension, but most recently he helped shore up the Patriots' struggling defensive backfield.
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (27) DEN – For someone who has recorded 19 interceptions in his first six years and returned five of them for touchdowns, Rodgers-Cromartie is well-traveled. After initially being traded from Arizona as part of a deal for a quarterback, he followed up three great early seasons with a down year in Philadelphia. DRC bounced backed in the next two seasons, the last of which was with Denver. Now some are wondering about his commitment to the game after comments about retirement.
- Vontae Davis (25) IND – Davis has the capability of playing at a very high level but is sometimes inconsistent. Though, when he's playing well, he's playing really well. He does have a lengthy injury history. He's still young but not lacking in experience entering his sixth season.
Sam Shields(26) GB – In what is an incredibly deep crop of free agent corners, a team might manage to land a solid starter like Shields without breaking the bank. While he is coming off a down year last season, he proved his ceiling is much higher than that the year before. He may have the chance to thrive if he slides into a No. 2 spot across from Joe Haden. UPDATE: Returned to the Packers for $39 million over 4 years, per Adam Schefter.