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More 2019 free agents: cornerbacks

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With veteran free agency opening for business in the next week or so, could the Redskins be in the market for an experienced cornerback?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In mid-January, I posted an article that took a look at seven cornerbacks expected to be available in the upcoming free agency period:

  • Ronald Darby
  • Jason McCourty
  • Bryce Callahan
  • Kareem Jackson
  • Steven Nelson
  • Pierre Desir
  • Darryl Roberts

Recent comments at the Combine from Doug Williams and Jay Gruden make it obvious that the Redskins see a number of holes in the roster — too many to fill with 9 draft picks. Cornerback is one of the positions where the Redskins already have a lot of youth, and could probably use a veteran free agent. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Redskins added a defensive back or two in the early hours of free agency, which opens up officially at 4:00 pm on 13 March, but allows negotiations (and rampant rumor reporting) to begin on March 10th.

Today’s article will look at eight more free agents that might be on the Redskins radar.

  • Jimmie Ward
  • Jonathan Jones
  • Briean Boddy-Calhoun
  • Buster Skrine
  • Bradley Roby
  • Darqueze Dennard
  • Morris Claiborne
  • Eric Rowe

Here is a look at the salary structure for the top-paid cornerbacks in the league, from OverTheCap:

The Redskins current depth chart at CB looks something like this:

  • Josh Norman
  • Quinton Dunbar
  • Fabian Moreau
  • Greg Stroman
  • Adonis Alexander
  • Josh Holsey
  • Danny Johnson
  • Harlan Miller
  • Alex Carter

Jimmie Ward, 49ers

San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Jimmie Ward was the 30th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and is listed at 5’11”, 193 pounds. He was initially a nickel corner, and the backup to starting safety Eric Reid, so he has positional flexibility.

The Redskins should know a lot about him, since he played for Jim Tomsula when he was a head coach in 2015; of course, Tomsula, was also a positional coach in 2014 would know a lot about Ward as well. Two years together would make Tomsula a Jimmie Ward expert.

Ward played cornerback full time for a season before being moved to free safety again, where he stayed until he was injured after playing 9 games last season.

Ward was drafted by the Niners. They picked up his fifth-year option. San Fran has $67m in available cap space. It’s hard to see why they would let Ward go; however, if they do, based on what I’ve written above, it might seem like he would be a great option for the Redskins.

On the other hand, I’ve already highlighted Jimmie as a free agent safety option, back in mid-February. This is what I wrote in that article:

The first thing that jumps out at me when I look at Ward’s career stats is the number of games played. A quick look at Wikipedia says:

2014: “He suffered a foot injury during the game and was placed on injured/reserve for the remainder of his rookie season.”

2016: “He left the game after suffering a fractured clavicle. On December 20, 2016, the San Francisco 49ers placed him on injured-reserve for the remainder of the season.”

2017: “He left the game after suffering a fractured forearm. On November 1, 2017, Ward was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.”

2018: “In Week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ward suffered a broken forearm. He was placed on injured reserve on November 27, 2018.”

Color me cynical, but the last thing the Washington Redskins — the most injured team in the league over the course of the ‘17 & ‘18 seasons — need is a brittle-boned safety cornerback.

Tomsula will know him; Ward has positional flexibility and skill; he looks like he may be either injury-prone or snakebit. A lot of teams could add a guy like Ward and feel like it was worth rolling the dice. Given the Redskins recent injury history, I’m not sure Washington is a franchise that can afford to take that gamble.

Jonathan Jones, Patriots

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jones entered the league as an undrafted free agent and has just finished his original 3-year contract. He is a Restricted Free Agent.

It looks like it would cost the Patriots around $2m to tender Jones ahead of free agency — an action that they could take anytime between the end of the Combine and the 13th of March.

Jones, who is 25 years old, has two Super Bowl rings at the moment. New England also has cornerbacks McCourty and Eric Rowe both hitting free agency this off-season. I’m not sure why the Patriots wouldn’t take advantage of the RFA opportunity and keep him for another year at a cost of $2m, and I have an even tougher time thinking of reasons why Jones would want to leave the Patriots, where he has had three successful years, to play for the Redskins. This just doesn’t look like a good fit to me.

Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Browns

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Boddy-Calhoun is another undrafted free agent from the 2016 class, meaning that he is another Restricted Free Agent. He is listed in some places as a cornerback and others as a safety; clearly he has positional flexibility.

Statistically, Boddy-Calhoun is slightly ahead of Jonathan Jones, but, of course, he was playing on the Browns while Jones was busy playing in Super Bowls.

There are very few good UDFA players who don’t get an RFA tender from their own team, and I fully expect Boddy-Calhoun would get one from Cleveland.

If he doesn’t get tendered, there’s an argument that he adds something to the Redskins, but it’s hard for me to see the Browns letting him go. I doubt the Redskins get the chance to talk to him this off season.

Buster Skrine, Jets

NFL: New York Jets at Cleveland Browns David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

Skrine was a 5th round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2011. He went through the free agency process once, ending up with the Jets, and is now 29 years old.

JetsWire.com recently published an article looking at Skrine and asking what the Jets should do with him as he approaches free agency again in 2019.

Buster Skrine’s tenure with the Jets has been fraught with mediocrity since the team signed him to a four-year, $25 million contract in 2015. He’s had his moments as a solid nickel cornerback, but he didn’t prove to be useful in the secondary if he left the comfort of his slot position. Now that he’s an impending free agent, the new regime of Adam Gase and Gregg Williams will need to determine if he’s worth another go-around in the Jets defense.

The 2018 season aligned with the rest of Skrine’s production on the Jets: middle of the road. He finished with 58 combined tackles – which was actually fourth on the team – but failed to record an interception for the first time since 2012 (his second year in the NFL). Skrine also tied for the team lead in penalties with seven, three of which were defensive pass interference.

Skrine cost $6.25 million per year over the course of his last contract, but considering his worsened production over the past four years and his age (he’ll turn 30 in April), he probably won’t be able to ask for that number again. Nickell Robey-Coleman, a slightly younger an arguably better slot corner, signed a three-year, $15.67 million deal with the Rams in 2018, so Skrine should command slightly less than that deal this offseason.

Skrine is effectively a one-trick pony in the slot. When tasked with playing outside, he is simply a liability in coverage. The Jets would be better off finding a more versatile or younger cornerback, especially one that doesn’t commit as many penalties as Skrine.

The Verdict

There are plenty of better, younger options in free agency and the draft that would fit the Jets’ defense more than Skrine. After seeing four years of what he can do, the Jets shouldn’t be impressed by Skrine’s production and can find another player to upgrade the position.

The Jets have the ability to remake their secondary around Johnson, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. Settling for Skrine doesn’t make sense when the position he plays is so important to the defense.

Now, the Redskins could probably use a quality veteran slot corner, but the question would be whether the team should commit the money that this articles suggests Skrine would command — a contract in the neighborhood of $5m per year. Washington has a pretty decent supply of boundary corners but seemed most vulnerable against slot receivers in 2018.

It seems to be a question of value. The Jets are likely to let Buster Skrine walk; the Redskins could use some help at slot corner, but, with a challenging cap situation, should Washington be committing resources to an 8-year veteran who lacks positional flexibility?

Bradley Roby, Broncos

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Roby was the 31st pick overall in the 2014 draft, selected immediately after Jimmie Ward. The Broncos used the fifth-year option to keep him on the team in 2018.

The Broncos have cap space of $34m and a long list of veteran free agents, including players like Jared Veldheer, Tramaine Brock, Matt Paradis, Shaquil Barrett, and Shane Ray. It could become a numbers game with Roby, but I would have thought he’d be a priority re-signing for John Elway and his front office.

Apparently, I’d be wrong.

247Sports recently posted an article suggesting that Roby has more affection for the Broncos than they apparently have for him.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

That’s the message, essentially, Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio delivered Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine to impending free agent cornerback Bradley Roby.

”We’re going to see how the free agent market treats him,” he said. “We’re still going to stay in contact with him, we still have an interest in him. We’ll see where the process takes us.”

On paper, Roby has star potential under Fangio after the ex-Bears defensive mastermind just coaxed a career-best campaign from CB Kyle Fuller, whose struggles closely mirrored Roby’s. At the very least, he could become a serviceable No. 2 behind Harris, allowing Denver to possibly bypass the position in the top rounds of April’s draft.

If he doesn’t return, the Broncos will move forward with Harris, Isaac Yiadom and Brendan Langley, while assuredly targeting a prospect such as LSU’s Greedy Williams or Georgia’s Deandre Baker with the No. 10 overall pick.

That’s a fairly sobering assessment of a former first round draft pick, and one that makes me wonder if he’s a player the Redskins need to be looking at. I get the feeling that Roby may be in the position with the Broncos that recent Redskins players like Preston Smith, Spencer Long and Baushaud Breeland have been with the team that drafted them when free agency came around: “We like you, but not enough to pay you. We think we can do better in the draft.”

Perhaps the Redskins would feel better about him than the Broncos seem to after 5 years.

Darqueze Dennard, Bengals

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Dennard was yet another first-round pick in the 2014 draft, going ahead of both Jimmie Ward and Bradley Roby at 24th overall.

Although he finished the 2015 season on injured reserve, he has been generally healthy during his career. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 6 last season, but returned to finish the season, appearing in 13 games.

He’s mostly been relegated to No. 3 cornerback duties in his time with the team.

Perhaps his best season came in 2017, in which he intercepted two passes and broke up six more. He was also effective as a blitzer, with two sacks.

This past season, Dennard started nine games — the most he’s started in his career — and it’s possible he could be ready for an expanded role. The only thing to keep in mind, though, is that he’s mostly played as the No. 3 guy in his time with the Bengals. Is he ready for a bigger role on defense?

According to Pro Football Focus, Dennard graded out as the Bengals’ best run defender (90.3) in 2018, when he played in 13 games with 68 tackles, two forced fumbles and six passes defended. Dennard played primarily in the slot and did not allow a 100-yard receiver the entire season.

Dennard seems to round out a trio of mostly under-performing first round cornerback selections from the 2014 draft — all three guys played 5 years for the teams that drafted them, but none seem to have made themselves indispensable to their teams, and all three seem destined to be on the market in the coming weeks.

This looks like yet another guy who could add some veteran depth to the Redskins, but “only at the right price” — unfortunately , the right price isn’t typically what free agency is known for.

Morris Claiborne, Jets

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The 29-year-old Claiborne should be well-known to Redskins fans, as he was drafted 6th overall by Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys in the 2012 draft. When he got his first shot at free agency in 2017, he signed a one-year, $5m contract with the Jets, followed up by another one-year contract in 2018, this time for $7m.

Jetswire recently published an article assessing Claiborne’s situation with the Jets.

Much of the focus has been on who the Jets will target in free agency come March, but New York has a handful of its own impending free agents to worry about before that time arrives.

One of those players is cornerback Morris Claiborne. After re-upping with the Jets on a one-year deal last offseason, Claiborne is set to hit the open market once again. This time around, he’ll likely be seeking more than a one-year prove it deal.

Claiborne did an admirable job as New York’s No. 1 cornerback in 2017 in a downtrodden secondary. With the addition of Trumaine Johnson in free agency, Claiborne shifted to the No. 2 spot in 2018. It wasn’t his best season, but Claiborne was solid in his new role. He also stayed healthy for the majority of the year, playing in 15 of 16 games. If it weren’t for a late-season injury that kept him on the sideline in Week 17, Claiborne would’ve played in all 16 games for the first time in his career.

At this point in his career, Claiborne is a good No. 2 corner and will be viewed as such on the free agent market. The Jets are paying Johnson No. 1 cornerback money and it’s unlikely they break the bank to ensure Claiborne’s return in 2019.

Something along the lines of his $7 million 2018 salary seems fair, whether it be a one- or two-year deal.

Claiborne is rather quiet, but leads by example and is well-respected in the locker room. He is also comfortable playing in New York — something certain free agent acquisitions struggle with.

[T]here are plenty of red flags surrounding a potential reunion with Claiborne. Although he managed to stay on the field in 2018, durability concerns will follow the LSU product no matter where he goes. This is also a new coaching staff which may be inclined to bring in its own guys with a cleaner injury history. There’s also a chance that Claiborne doesn’t fit in Gregg Williams’ 4-3 cover schemes.

The verdict

When it comes to deciding whether or not Claiborne should be back in 2019, it comes down to seeing how the free agent market plays out. If a handful of teams come along and offer Claiborne more money than what general manager Mike Maccagnan and the front office consider to be a reasonable amount, it’s not worth the trouble of getting into a bidding war for his services.

With a new regime in place on the sideline and a focus on bringing in an influx of fresh talent, Claiborne may no longer have a spot with the Jets. However, he is a good player with a track record of production when healthy. Once the coaching staff sits down and evaluates his film, they could find Claiborne to be a fit and could push the front office to bring him back into the fold for another season.

There are reasons to like Claiborne as a free agent target for the Redskins this off-season, but there are also issues. Despite 2 seasons in the AFC, the Cowboy stink will never be gone from a Jerry Jones draft pick. He has had a number of injury concerns in his NFL career, though he did manage to get on the field for 15 games in each season with the Jets.

At 29 years old, there’s not a lot of “future” with Claiborne, though he is roughly 2 years younger than Josh Norman.

If the Jets writer is correct, and Claiborne could be signed for around $7m per year, a 3-year, $21m contract might be doable for the Redskins, and Claiborne might provide a bridge between the veteran Norman and the young group of defensive backs that the Redskins have drafted in the past three seasons.

Eric Rowe, Patriots

NFL: New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Rowe was drafted by the Eagles in the 2nd round of the 2015 draft, and then traded to the Patriots in 2016 for a conditional 4th round pick. Rowe started out 5th on the depth chart for the Patriots.

He moved up the depth chart and was set to be a key player for the Patriots in ‘17, though he missed about half the season as he battled a groin injury.

2018 started out looking like it would be a good year for Rowe; throughout training camp, Rowe competed for a starting cornerback with Jason McCourty, and Belichick named Rowe and Stephon Gilmore the starting cornerbacks in 2018. However, in just the second game of the season (a game I remember watching), Rowe was benched in favor of Jason McCourty after giving up three receptions for 20-yards and a touchdown. He was inactive for the next three games (Weeks 3–5) due to a groin injury. He then played in the next two games before being placed on injured reserve, apparently bringing his career with the Patriots to a somewhat ignominious end.

Rowe was highly drafted by the Eagles and traded away a year later for a mid-round pick. His groin has kept him off the field for most of the past two seasons in which he has played in only 12 total games. I just don’t see a lot of value or upside for the Redskins in pursuing Eric Rowe this off-season.

Poll

Of the eight potential free agent cornerbacks highlighted in today’s article, which one would you be the most supportive of the Redskins front office pursuing, taking age, history, performance, likely contract and other factors into consideration?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    JImmie Ward
    (34 votes)
  • 5%
    Jonathan Jones
    (12 votes)
  • 6%
    Briean Boddy-Calhoun
    (16 votes)
  • 4%
    Buster Skrine
    (10 votes)
  • 26%
    Bradley Roby
    (61 votes)
  • 18%
    Darqueze Dennard
    (43 votes)
  • 18%
    Morris Claiborne
    (42 votes)
  • 5%
    Eric Rowe
    (13 votes)
231 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Should the Redskins sign a veteran free agent cornerback this off-season?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Yes
    (133 votes)
  • 39%
    No
    (87 votes)
220 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Should the ‘Skins try to sign one of the free agents highlighted in today’s article? (Ward, Jones, Boddy-Calhoun, Skrine, Roby, Dennard, Claiborne, Rowe)

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    Yes
    (124 votes)
  • 38%
    No
    (77 votes)
201 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Should the ‘Skins try to sign one of the free agents highlighted in the January article? (Darby, McCourty, Callahan, Jackson, Nelson, Desir, Roberts)

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Yes
    (89 votes)
  • 55%
    No
    (112 votes)
201 votes total Vote Now