Defensive back is the quintessential position for NFL teams to fill via free agency. The combination of depth, need and cost make it an ideal area to consider prior to the draft.
This year is no exception. The defensive back free agent class is as deep as it ever has been with options at just about every level.
Since coming into the league as a rookie in 2010, Joe Haden has locked up the Browns' No. 1 corner spot. With the suspension aside, he's emerged as the shutdown defender Cleveland needed from the former seventh overall pick.
Even with Haden taking away half the field, when he was on the field, problems arouse with the other half. Sheldon Brown has had a more than solid three years here, but is approaching the end of his career. Whether he'll be retained, moved to safety, down to nickel, all remains to be seen. He's not another Charles Woodson, but that doesn't mean he's completely out of fuel.
In Haden's absence, Buster Skrine and Dimitri Patterson left a lot of fans rather disappointed, failing to step up when forced into more prominent roles. Patterson had just been extended after a promising season the year before, but couldn't sustain the success and was an early casualty of the new regime. Skrine's still under contract for another two seasons. The 2011 fifth-round pick still offers depth without costing much of anything.
T.J. Ward is entering his contract year. While he's not an all-pro caliber strong safety, he does a lot for this secondary as long as he's healthy. Hopefully we can get to see a full 16 games for the first time since his fine rookie campaign. What the Browns don't need is yet another hole to fill in a year from now.
Free safety is Cleveland's defensive equivalent of the quarterback carousel, not in the importance of the position, rather it's consistent rotation of journeymen since expansion. Recently, we've seen the likes of Usama Young, Eric Hagg, Ray Ventrone and David Sims, none of which solidified the position or offered the sort of ball-hawking talent you hope to get from a free safety.
That could change this year. The Browns have the most cap space of any team in the NFL, and if the new front office decides to pursue defensive backs, this would appear to be the time to do it.
The depth of this class also shows why you don't keep drafting DBs in the first round. You should expect first round picks to be franchise players, i.e. Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, Alex Mack, etc., not Aqib Talib or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Imagine a scenario where Dee Milliner is the next Darrelle Revis, goes to Cleveland at No. 6: Even if the team could afford to keep both Milliner and Haden on the roster, it wouldn't be a cost-effective venture. Consider the New York Jets or the Philadelphia Eagles.
What a team needs to win a Super Bowl is a great quarterback, a hot streak and a lot of luck.
Cornerback is very important. It's not, however, a position worth dumping $20~ million of cap a year into so you can have a great No. 2 CB.
Instead, take advantage of free agency periods such as this one. Save the draft pick for another position, one that will be still be on the roster at the end of his rookie contract, and grab a solid starter at a somewhat reasonable price.
- Dashon Goldson (SF - 28) – With Jairus Byrd out of the picture, Dashon Goldson is leading this pack. The six-year veteran only seems to be getting better. He's going to fetch a pretty penny and it may be worth it with a properly structured contract.
- Kenny Phillips (NYG - 26) – Kenny Phillips is a do-it-all safety, excellent in coverage and tackling. The knee injury that cost him most of last season, however, should be taken into consideration. If he can return to form, he's well worth a look.
- Glover Quin (HOU - 27) – Glover Quin may go for less than a few of his peers, but still has a lot to offer which ever secondary he eventually lands in. Teams seeking a safety in free agency may target Quin after Goldson and Phillips are off the board.
- Louis Delmas (DET - 25) – Injuries are the biggest concern for Louis Delmas. He's a fine free safety, but has never started all 16 games in a season and missed 13 in just the past two years. For that reason, it's a big risk, but if healthy, could pay off just as much.
- William Moore (ATL - 27) – William Moore is a great safety, but plays a role more similar to T.J. Ward, as opposed to some of the other options here. He's probably going to get a hefty contract, but if defensive coordinator Ray Horton can make it work, fair enough.
- Ed Reed (BAL - 34) – Ed Reed is still posting serviceable numbers for his age. He'll be entering his twelfth season in 2013. There's probably tread left on his tires, but considering the field, one of the younger free agents would be preferable.
- Aqib Talib (NE - 27) – Aqib Talib may be the most talented corner of this class, but perhaps not the best option. He seems to lack the dedication and consistently falls short of his true potential. Players like this still get significant pay days.
- Sean Smith (MIA - 25) – Unlike Talib, Sean Smith has been very durable. He's shown he can play at a high level, but does have some concerns with consistency. At 6-foot-3, he could be an ideal fit as the Browns' No. 2 across from Haden.
- Chris Houston (DET - 28) – Chris Houston has been generally more consistent than some of the others on this list but also has a lower ceiling. With the Browns not needing another shutdown No. 1, Houston might be a more reasonable option.
- Keenan Lewis (PIT - 26) – Despite being in the league four years, Keenan Lewis didn't become a full-time starter until 2012. He made the most of the opportunity and will likely get paid well because of it. He's not a flashy corner but is fine in coverage.
- Brent Grimes (ATL - 29) – After being franchise tagged by the Atlanta Falcons last year, Grimes ended up missing the entire season due to an achilles tear in the opener. Based on his 2011 season, he would have been well worth that tag had he played.
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (PHI - 26) – In a year with an incredible amount of depth, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seems like a risk unrelated to injury. Like Talib, Rodgers-Cromartie has a ton of talent but also some serious consistency issues.