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The 5 O’Clock Club: Playing GM - a look at some soon-to-be free agent cornerbacks

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

We all know that teams will announce most of the re-signings of their 2017 players in the week between the end of the Combine and the start of the new year, so I want to finish up the “a look at free agents” series before the list of available players starts changing hourly. The Redskins have already announced the re-signing of two of their players, and this week saw a high profile player tagged -- Jarvis Landry of the Dolphins. My plan is to publish a look at free agents daily from today through Saturday the 3rd in an attempt to highlight as many free agents as possible ahead of the new league year, which starts at 4 p.m. on 14 March.

The cornerback market has moved pretty quickly. Just in the few days since I first wrote this ‘club’ post, two major transactions have taken place to affect the veteran free agent cornerback market. Vontae Davis, who was already an unrestricted free agent after being cut by the Colts last season, signed with the Buffalo Bills. The second move saw Marcus Peters & a 6th round pick traded from the KC Chiefs to the Rams, reportedly for a 2019 second round pick and a 2018 fourth rounder, meaning a change in team needs at CB.

There’s still plenty of CB talent left to go around in the upcoming free agent frenzy, which starts on Wednesday, 14 March.

Trumaine Johnson, Los Angeles Rams

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 213 pounds

Age: 28

Entry into NFL: 65th overall, 3rd round, 2012 draft (St Louis Rams)

Career Stats:

Contract:

Bleacher Report ranked Trumaine Johnson as the 15th best cornerback in the NFL in 2017.

Spotrac estimates that Trumaine Johnson would receive a contract of 5 years, $68.3m if he were to be signed by a team in free agency ($13.6m APY).

How will he fit with the Redskins?

A lot of people weren’t expecting Trumaine Johnson to make it to free agency, but with the Rams trading for Marcus Peters, suddenly it looks as though they may let Johnson walk instead of paying him in 2018.

That said, somebody will pay him, and likely somewhere around 4:01 p.m. EST on 14 March. Johnson is likely to be a very hot property in free agency.

Some people in Indianapolis are convinced that Johnson will be suiting up in blue & white next season:

After cutting ties with Vontae Davis during the season the Colts have zero cornerbacks under contract with more than three years of NFL experience. And, with Rashaan Melvin and Pierre Desir also hitting the free agent market, the Colts could lose out on their top two players at the position.

Enter Trumaine Johnson, a six-year veteran with over 280 tackles and 18 interceptions in his time with the Rams. The peak of his young career came in 2015 when he hauled in a career high seven interceptions and 58 tackles in just 13 games and he’s fresh off a year with two interceptions, 13 pass deflections and 57 tackles. While his numbers have reduced since his 2015 season, Johnson has been extraordinary in press-man coverage and gave up only 43 yards all last year.

With hints of the new defensive scheme under Matt Eberflus switching to a Tampa 2 coverage, Johnson is the physical corner that Eberflus needs to jam the receivers at the line and force an inside release. Not only would Johnson help in the passing game, but Johnson is also one of the best tackling corners in the game — a necessity if running cover 2 against the run.

The only force acting against this signing is the contract that Johnson could demand. Not only would that be the longest contract GM Chris Ballard has doled out in his tenure, but would also be the highest average salary paid out as well.

If Ballard does choose to roll out the red carpet for Johnson, he’s worth every penny and can become the No. 1 corner the Colts have been searching for.

I’m pretty convinced that Johnson won’t be in DC. The team needs a cornerback, but with Josh Norman on the team, the Redskins won’t be shopping for a player of Johnson’s caliber price tag.

Malcolm Butler, New England Patriots

NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 190 pounds

Age: 27

Entry into NFL: Undrafted Free Aent in 2014 (New England Patriots)

Career Stats:

Contract:

I’m not really sure how to value Butler. Spotrac doesn’t have an estimated value, and also doesn’t offer any real meaningful comparisons.

Bleacher Report ranked him as the 42nd-best CB in the NFL in 2017.

The one-time Superbowl hero who made one of the all-time great championship-sealing plays against the Seahawks to become a household name, became a major talking point again following the Patriots loss to the Eagles. This time, it wasn’t because of a great play, but because of his non-play. Something smelled fishy in the New England locker room, but with Belichick being Belichick, it’s hard to figure out whether Butler brought his benching on himself or if ol’ Bill just got a wild hair up his ass and decided to sit the corner who’d played 98% of his team’s regular season defensive snaps in 2017.

OverTheCap has Butler listed at #13 on their Top-100 list with the comment, “Stock took a big hit this year but he should still do well in free agency since most corners do pretty well.”

ESPN has Butler ranked #25 overall on it’s list of top free agents.

All of this tells me that Butler should get a premium contract, with a small discount to keep him from hitting the highest tier.

Trumaine Johnson and Josh Norman are the only two CBs in the league earning over $14m per year. Xavier Rhodes, Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman are all at $14m.

There are 5 CBs earning between $12m and $13.75m per year, and Malcolm Butler could possibly end up in this group of players (guys like Desmond Trufant and Janoris Jenkins), probably in the low to middle part of the range, say $12 - $13m.

If he isn’t seen as being that talented, the next tier is $8.5m to $10.5m (Chris Harris, Joe Hayden, Robert Alford), and he would almost certainly command that kind of contract.

How will he fit with the Redskins?

The answer is that Butler probably doesn’t fit with the ‘Skins unless they part ways with Josh Norman. I don’t expect that to happen. With Josh Norman scheduled to count $16.9m, $14.5m and $15.5m against the cap in ‘18, ‘19, and ‘2020, there isn’t really room to pay what Butler will probably command in the free agent market. At 27 years old, trading out Butler for Norman doesn’t do a lot to make the unit younger.

I just don’t see Butler fitting into the roster in Washington, though I expect him to land somewhere that is cornerback-needy and has some cash to spend like the Browns or Jets. In fact, the Jets might be very happy to sign the former Patriot to a big contract

Aaron Colvin, Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 193 pounds

Age: 26

Entry into NFL: 4th round, 2014 (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Career Stats:

Contract:

Spotrac has a similarity score of 99% or higher on the following players:

  • Morris Claiborne, Jets, $4.7m
  • Patrick Robinson, Eagles, (currently $775k, but previously $6m with Colts)
  • Desmond Trufant, Falcons, $13.75m

I’m going to guess that we’re not looking at a Trufant-style contract, and that the more likely value for Colvin will be in the $5m to $7m range (Claiborne, Skrine, Grimes, DR-C).

OverTheCap compared him to E.J. Gaines, with the comment, “Had a good year...and should have no problems earning similar to the $6-$6.5M contracts the decent slot guys have received in recent years.”

How will he fit with the Redskins?

Colvin could give the Redskins the replacement for Kendall Fuller at slot corner that they are probably looking for.

The folks at Big Cat Country don’t think he’ll be leaving:

The Jacksonville Jaguars are set to see nickel cornerback Aaron Colvin leave in free agency if they don’t re-sign him to a deal before free agency begins next month, but Jaguars.com Senior Writer John Oehser doesn’t think that will be the case.

Oehser said he thinks it’s “very likely” the team brings back Colvin and keeps their secondary completely together for at least one more season.

Colvin is an interesting study — he’s good enough to warrant starter money if he were to go on the open market, but he would never grow past the No. 3 guy here in Jacksonville with two All-Pro cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye above him on the depth chart.

247Sports likes Colvin:

Colvin has played four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting 25 games and totaling 166 tackles, 14 pass deflections, and a forced fumble. He never has recorded an interception. NFL.com brought up Colvin’s name as a potential free agent fit for the Eagles because of his low price tag, which is what the Eagles will seek in free agency.

The 26-year old Colvin make $1.797 million in the final year of his rookie deal and isn’t a player teams will be knowing on the door in free agency, especially for teams seeking slot cornerbacks.

According to Pro Football Focus, Colvin allowed just 0.76 yards per cover snap, sixth among 34 cornerbacks that played at least 200 passing down snaps in the slot. Now, Colvin did allow 45 catches on 60 targets...but allowed just one reception on every 10 snaps (22nd in NFL).

Colvin was a valuable piece to the Jaguars defense, playing inside to A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey...but is not expected to resign with the team.

To me, Colvin seems like an ideal fit for the Redskins in terms of skills, age and contract value. Signing Aaron Colvin to a free agent contract would take a lot of the sting out of losing Kendall Fuller in the trade for Alex Smith.

Kyle Fuller

NFL: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 190 pounds

Age: 26

Entry into NFL: 14th overall, 2014 draft (Chicago Bears)

Career Stats:

Contract:

I haven’t seen one single definitive estimate for the value of Kyle Fuller in free agency, but I’ve seen a lot of comments to the effect that he won’t come cheap, and that he’ll be in the upper tiers of cornerback contracts. I’ve seen a few figures tossed around with no real evidence to back them up, but the consensus seems to be that Fuller is likely to land in that group of cornerbacks contract values immediately below Josh Norman, meaning between $12.5 and $14m per year. I’d suggest that he’ll end up at $13m+ in a free agency market that probably only features about 3 or 4 big names.

How will he fit with the Redskins?

From ESPN on Fuller:

Fuller, the Bears’ 2014 first-round draft pick, looked all but done in Chicago before the start of the regular season. After he suspiciously missed the entire 2016 season after a routine knee scope, the Bears declined Fuller’s fifth-year option. They brought in multiple cornerbacks last spring, in essence to replace Fuller, but the 25-year old defensive back had arguably his best season with 67 tackles, two interceptions and 22 pass breakups.

Bleacher Report:

The market for free-agent cornerback Kyle Fuller is likely to price out the Chicago Bears of re-signing the 2014 first-round draft pick, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported Friday.

La Canfora wrote bringing Fuller back in 2018 would seemingly be a high priority for Chicago but that he’s going to have a number of suitors in free agency and “will not be returning to Chicago,” per a source.

The Bears will have between Feb. 20 and March 6 to determine whether or not they’ll place a franchise or transition tag on Fuller for 2018. If they decide against that strategy, then Fuller’s future will likely lie elsewhere.

In a different article, Bleacher Report ranked Kyle Fuller as the 10th best cornerback in the league in 2017.

NFL.com offered this:

“We might be higher on Fuller than most after watching him lead the league in passes defensed last year, per Pro Football Focus. Could he be the next Casey Hayward, making his former team look silly for allowing him to fly the nest after his rookie contract?”

The Panthers Wire likes him as a free agent target:

One of four brothers to play in the NFL, Fuller is only beginning to reach his potential as he’s turning 26 later this week. Like many pro cornerbacks, he saw some rough moments his first few years but Fuller appears to have turned out alright and is now set to cash in.

His length, coverage and ball skills are exactly what [defensive coordintors] should be looking for.

Fuller also missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury, so that’s a lingering concern for any team who may be interested.

He won’t come cheap, though.

With Kendall Fuller, Kyle’s younger brother, being shipped off to Kansas City, I first thought it would be awkward to consider Kyle as a Redskin free agent target, but Kendall seems to have accepted the trade with equanimity — understanding that the Redskins weren’t shopping him because they were unhappy; rather, he was traded because he was the player the Chiefs wanted. It’s easy to understand. The salary-cap-strapped Chiefs saw an opportunity to get a high-performing CB with two years left on his rookie contract. That was ideal for them.

Over the weeks since the trade became public, I’ve seen a number of people who are fans of teams other than the Redskins suggest bringing Kyle in to replace his younger brother.

The fly in the ointment here is the same as with Trumaine Johnson: Kyle Fuller is gonna be too expensive for the Redskins.

Nevin Lawson

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Height: 5’9”

Weight: 192 pounds

Age: 26

Entry into NFL: 4th round, 2014 draft (Detroit Lions)

Career Stats:

Contract:

To give you an idea about Nevin Lawson, two weeks ago, Pride of Detroit website asked the Lions fans about many players.

Tahir Whitehead, their star linebacker, received a 71% show of support.

Haloti Ngata got a 90% level of support.

Darren Fells got 78%.

The poll on Neven Lawson came back this way:

What should the Lions do with Nevin Lawson?

Resign him: 48%

Let him go: 52%

That’s not a real vote of confidence from his own fan base. Imagine how general managers across the league must see him.

Bleacher Report recently ranked all the cornerbacks of 2017, and Nevin Lawson was listed at #65, right behind Prince Amukamara, who played last year on a one-year, $7m contract.

D.J. Hayden, who Bleacher report ranked #68 played last season on a one-year, $3.6m contract.

For reference, Bleacher Report ranked the Redskin cornerbacks this way (slot corners were not included in rankings):

#21 Bashaud Breeland

#24 Josh Norman

#60 Quinton Dunbar

So, Bleacher Report had the Lions starting CB ranked slightly behind Dunbar, a Redskins backup.

Reading through the Pride of the Lions website, you come away with the feeling that Lawson was a bit disappointing - perhaps the equivalent of a guy like Will Compton at LB for the ‘Skins... not terrible, but you feel like you can do better.

I’m not sure what all that says about Lawson’s likely contract. I guess it may indicate that there won’t be a ton of competition to sign him, and that his likely contract range will be between $4m and $7m per year.

How will he fit with the Redskins?

I guess — maybe — you could seen Nevin Lawson as a replacement for Quinton Dunbar, who would replace Bashaud Breeland if he leaves in free agency.

Any way you look at it, though, Lawson is on the borderline between a starting quality CB and a backup. The Redskins would probably see themselves with a less skilled CB room if they signed Lawson in free agency.

Bashaud Breeland

Washington Redskins vÊSeattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 195 pounds

Age: 26

Entry into NFL: 4th round, 2014 draft (Washington Redskins)

Career Stats:

Contract:

This from OverTheCap: “[Breeland] has the physical tools to score a big contract and it would not stun me if someone reached big for him, but more likely he’ll earn a mid/lower level 2nd corner contract.”

Spotrac estimates that Breeland would receive a contract of 5 years, $34.9m if he were to be signed by a team in free agency ($6.9m APY).

In all honesty,$6.9m APY is much less than I think Breeland can get. I think it’s much less than Breeland expects. I don’t think the market for CBs will be soft this off-season, and Breeland is more well-known than Redskin free agents usually are. He’s had some consistency issues, but I think he’s got a good reputation around the league, and I expect he’ll land in the $8.5 - $10.5m range.

If he ends up being available for $6.5 or $7m per year, then I would hope the Redskins would try to bring him back after letting him test the market.

Poll

What happens with Josh Norman in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Nothing, why do you ask?
    (282 votes)
  • 17%
    The Redskins trade him away
    (59 votes)
341 votes total Vote Now