clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Washington Commanders free agency options: Cornerbacks

Upgrading the secondary

San Francisco 49ers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Veteran free agency is right around the corner. The “legal tampering period” begins on Monday, 13 March, and free agency officially opens for business at 4pm EST on Wednesday, 15 March — the start of the 2023 league year.

Washington Commanders free agency options will be a short series — likely four articles, each of which will profile 4 or 5 veteran free agents at positions of perceived need for the Commanders.

To make this a little bit different, and hopefully a little bit of fun, KyleSmithforGM and Bill-in-Bangkok have agreed on the positions and the players. Each of us will write our own player profiles, meaning that you’ll get TWO profiles on each player. With any luck, that will lead to a more well-rounded view of the profiled players.

Obviously, we’re not trying to provide a comprehensive list of every free agent available; rather, this is an effort to ‘prime the pump’ a little bit, and encourage discussion ahead of the upcoming free agency period.

We encourage you to not only comment on the players we’ve chosen to highlight, but to add your own thoughts or links to profiles of players you find intriguing. To keep things tidy, we encourage you to focus your thoughts on the position group of the day.

So far in the series, we’ve looked at all the offensive line and linebacker positions. Today, we will look free agent cornerbacks before finishing the series with a look at tight ends tomorrow.

While Bobby McCain, who was just released, was putatively a free safety, per PFF, he lined up at slot corner more than any other position (including FS) and more so from Week 10 onwards. His departure, then, strains an already thin cornerback group.

Kendall Fuller is pretty good, but at 28 years of age and in the final year of his contract, the Commanders need to be thinking about succession planning.

Benjamin St-Juste, the 26-year-old 3rd year corner, has shown flashes, but has struggled to stay healthy, playing in just one game after Week 11 in 2022, following a rookie year in which he was on the field for just 20 snaps after Week 8.

There are question marks about every other CB on the roster: Troy Apke, Rachad Wildgoose, Christian Holmes, Tariq Casto-Fields, and Marcus Fields. It is unclear whether the team plans to re-sign Danny Johnson.

It looks as if the team needs a dependable slot corner to replace McCain, and, at the very least, the depth behind Fuller and St-Juste needs to be addressed; preferably, the skill level of the unit as a whole needs to be upgraded. The team seems likely to target a cornerback in the draft with the #16 pick, but the position needs to be bolstered in free agency ahead of the draft to prevent the team from being forced to use that valuable pick on a player of limited skills.

CLICK HERE to see the Commanders current 63-man depth chart

James Bradberry, 29, Eagles

Super Bowl LVII - Philadelphia Eagles Media Availability
James Bradberry #24 of the Philadelphia Eagles speaks to the media during the Philadelphia Eagles media availability prior to Super Bowl LVII on February 08, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 211 pounds

NFL entry: 2nd round, 2016, #62 overall

2022 cap hit: $7.25m

KS4GM’s take

I’ll be completely honest, I can’t think about James Bradberry without experiencing cold sweats and jarring flashbacks of Josh Norman and Landon Collins. Dave Gettleman drafted defensive backs have drained this franchise of nearly $106M since 2016. Bradberry may be an absolute stud, but my trauma is so deep, I refuse to entertain it.

My concern may be moot, however, as Bradberry is apparently looking for a huge contract, far exceeding his $7.25M 1-year deal with the Eagles last season:

“I think my stats show that I should be a top-dollar guy,” said Bradberry last week after Super Bowl LVII, “but I know there are a whole bunch of variables that go into that. We’ll see.”

“I would probably say I want to go to a team that has a good roster,” he said. “And of course, I want the number to be right. What that number is for me in my head, I haven’t figured it out yet. I got more time to think about it. But I know I want to be on a good roster.”

What would “top dollar” look like? Right now, “top dollar” cornerbacks like Jaire Alexander, Denzel Ward, and Jalen Ramsey are getting paid over $20M per year. Is Bradberry in that rarefied air? The numbers don’t seem to bear it out. Last season, which was one of his best, he finished with a PFF grade of 74.1 - well below the highest rated CBs in the league - on the best passing defense in the league.

No matter who signs Bradberry in 2023, I’m expecting a regression back to “above average” and I have no interest in Washington pursuing him.

BiB’s take

Interestingly, 3 of the 4 cornerbacks featured in this article were 2nd round draft choices (the other was a UDFA); two are listed at 5’11”, 184 pounds, while the other two are listed at 6’1”. The youngest is 25 years old; Bradberry is the oldest of the group at 29.

Bradberry was drafted by the Panthers and played out his rookie contract in Carolina. He first entered veteran free agency in 2020, at about the same time that Ron Rivera took over in Washington. I think a lot of people expected the CB and coach to reunite; instead, Bradberry was signed to play for the NY Giants by the GM who had drafted him: Dave Gettleman.

Bradberry played well for the Giants, and by all reports, Joe Shoen wanted to keep him on the roster last year, but the cap mess inherited from Gettleman was simply too much of a burden, and the Giants cut the defensive back late in the offseason (May 9th). Again, there was speculation that Ron Rivera could try to sign the former Panther, but the Commanders’ cap management was in austerity mode after having traded for Carson Wentz about 3 weeks earlier. Bradberry went to the Eagles, where he added another good year to his career resume.

Consider this summary to the Bleeding Green Nation article that asked whether the cornerback should be re-signed in 2023:

I am conflicted about Bradberry. His numbers are elite. I have seen others rank him as the number 1 priority for the Eagles this offseason, but... I just don’t really see how the Eagles will be able to bring back Bradberry this year and afford other key players.

Bradberry’s numbers are elite this year, but I think some of that has to do with how much protection the outside cornerbacks had in Jonathan Gannon’s scheme. As well as that, the pass rush made it easier for all of the Eagles’ secondary as quarterbacks didn’t have time to sit in the pocket. The last few weeks of the season, I watched Bradberry get beat quite a few times the last few weeks of the season but the pass rush helped to protect. I know not everyone will agree with me, but I still think Darius Slay is the better cornerback of the two.

I think Bradberry had a fantastic year, but I would have to pass and prioritize other free agents, such as CGJ and Hargrave at this point.

In the poll at the end of that article, 75% of readers voted “no”, indicating that the Eagles should not re-sign Bradberry in 2023, but in perusing the comments, it became clear that the issue was cap space, not performance. Most fans indicated that they would have voted ‘yes’ if Bradberry’s expected price were lower or if the Eagles had more money to spend.

The Eagles have Darius Slay and a cap issue. The Commanders don’t yet have abundant cap space, but that could change with a couple of releases, restructures or renegotiations between now and the start of free agency on Wednesday.

I think Bradberry is a good scheme fit for the Commanders — he is a good zone corner who excelled in Carolina — but at his age and price, I’m not sure he’s the guy Washington is looking for in 2023. My feeling is that the team needs to shore up the depth with a slightly younger and moderately priced cornerback while they try to upgrade the position with a Day 1 or Day 2 draft pick.

I think Bradberry made more sense for the Commanders in 2020 and 2022 than he does this year. It seems that it may be a matter of bad timing for a coach and a cornerback who look like the perfect couple. While I won’t complain if the team signs him, my feeling is that the timing isn’t right for Bradberry in DC.

Emmanuel Moseley, 27, 49ers

San Francisco 49ers v Carolina Panthers
Emmanuel Moseley #4 of the San Francisco 49ers returns an interception 41-yards for a touchdown during the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on October 9, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 49ers defeated the Panthers 37-15.
Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 184 pounds

NFL entry: UDFA, 2018

2022 cap hit: $6.5m

BiB’s take

First things first — Emmanuel Moseley tore his ACL in Week 5 of the 2022 season. It’s extremely unlikely that he is healthy enough for training camp, and the chances seem pretty strong that he’ll miss at least the first 4 games of the 2023 season.

Oddly, I think this could work for the Commanders — a team that needs to concern itself with depth more than the skill levels of their starting corners, Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste. If Mosely is able to play for the first time in late October or early November, he could provide a nice roster boost just when it is needed.

The other factor is that, coming off the injury, Moseley’s price tag is likely not to be very high; in fact, he’s likely to end up on a 1-year ‘prove it’ contract. While the Commanders have about $12m in cap space currently, per Over the Cap, the Niners have only about $3.9m in available space; SF will almost certainly have to restructure contracts for Christian McCaffrey and Trent Williams this month. Those two moves, if carried out aggressively, could add about $23m in cap space according to Niners Nation. Guys like Aziz Al-Shaair and Jimmy Ward seem to be higher priorities than a 27-year-old CB rehabbing from an ACL.

The Niners have Ambry Thomas (3rd round, 2021) and Lenoir Deommodore (5th round, 2021) ready to step up (though the latter is more of a slot defender than a boundary corner). Moreover, the team’s kicker, Robbie Gould, said last week that he would test free agency — a sign that the front office is struggling to scrape together the cap dollars they need to keep the band together. All in all, it seems as if Moseley may be given the chance to at least test the free agent market.

Moseley is a good corner — better in coverage than against the run — who has played his entire career with one of the best defenses in the league.

If the 49ers let him test free agency, then, despite the recovery from ACL injury, I’d sign Moseley and roll the dice that he recovers sufficiently to make the signing successful, and I’d probably push for a 2-3 year contract in an effort to keep his 2023 cap hit very low, and to get a couple of full, healthy seasons out of him in ‘24 and ‘25.

In other words, I’d be okay with the Commanders buying low on Emmanuel Moseley.

KS4GM’s take

In a recent piece at Niners’ Nation, Moseley was declared - with Daniel Brunskill, an offensive lineman - to be one of two players the 49ers couldn’t afford to lose in free agency this offseason. Why?

Before Moseley’s ACL injury in Carolina, he was playing the best football of his career. His foray into free agency would have mirrored Charvarius Ward’s, as both players were in line for a payday after going undrafted.

Spotrac has Moseley’s projected market at $16.6 million per year. That is unlikely due to the injury and his timetable. Sustaining the injury in Week 5 of 2022 means Moseley won’t be ready for the beginning of 2023. Will a team be willing to invest in a player returning from that type of injury? The answer is no.

So, why is Moseley the player the 49ers can’t afford to lose in 2023? His contract number should be easy to absorb, and it gives this team phenomenal depth at the cornerback position. Deommodore Lenoir was exceptional during the playoffs and can fill in across from Ward. With Jimmie Ward leaving the nickel spot, Samuel Womack can fill in.

When Moseley does return, it will likely kick Lenoir back inside and create a top-corner trio in the NFL.

Estimates of Moseley’s likely contract this offseason seem inflated in relation to his production, but he was arguably San Francisco’s best corner before his injury last year. In 2022, Moseley had a passer rating allowed of 66.9, while Lenoir’s was only 91.2.

John Lynch, 49ers GM is interested in seeing Moseley come back, “He’s a guy we’d have interest in bringing back because of the way he plays, but also what he stands for. He’s one of us and we’d sure like to have him back.” Lynch has indicated that Moseley’s recovery is going well, and seems to be speaking in a way that suggests that he could be back before the start of the 2023 season.

I’d be interested in Washington taking a look at Moseley in the next few weeks.

Byron Murphy, 25, Cardinals

Green Bay Packers v Arizona Cardinals
Byron Murphy #7 of the Arizona Cardinals defends Randall Cobb #18 of the Green Bay Packers during the second half of a game at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 184 pounds

NFL entry: 2nd round, 2019, #33 overall

2022 cap hit: $3.75m (rookie contract)

KS4GM’s take

Taken early in the second round of the 2019 draft, Murphy’s time in Arizona has been up and down. His best season was in 2021, where he posted 4 interceptions, 64 tackles, and started in 16 of 17 games. Last year, he was placed on season-ending IR with a back injury in December, which caused him to miss the last five games. That said, given his level of play before the injury, it’s anticipated that he’ll be a high priority for the Cardinals to try to re-sign.

Estimates are that Murphy’s deal could closely mirror that of the one signed by DJ Reed last offseason, which was 3 years for $33M. And, based on his recent performance, Sports Illustrated declared him one of their top five free agent CBs this offseason:

“Murphy did himself a bit of a favor in 2022 by showing that he can play on the outside, adding some versatility to his game that had previously been headlined for his ability in the slot,” said Tyler Sullivan.

“However, the former second-round pick in 2019 had had an up-and-down career, including during the 2022 campaign. He missed eight games with a back injury and allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a 103.1 passer rating against him. That said, young corners are hard to come by on the open market and Murphy was able to play and start in 16 games in 2021 where he held QBs to an 87.6 passer rating. If teams are getting the 2021 version of Murphy, he should be a sought-after free agent.”

Given Murphy’s better performance in zone, versus man, schemes - per PFF - he could potentially be a good fit in Jack Del Rio’s defense. The real question becomes, what does Kendall Fuller’s future with the team look like. If the team intends to move on from Fuller after 2023, Murphy’s contract could likely be structured in a way to minimize cap hit this year and basically backfill Fuller’s lost contract in 2024 and 2025 without a ton of variance (Fuller’s cap hit is $11.6M in 2023).

BiB’s take

Per PFF, Byron Murphy played 795 snaps in 2020, lining up as a slot defender 77% of the time.

He played over 1,000 defensive snaps in 2021, with a 56/44 split between playing in the slot and on the boundary.

In 2022, the Cardinals put him on the boundary 76.5% of the time.

Usually, this kind of 3-year conversion will show that the player is much better at his new position than he was at his old one. PFF’s grades don’t necessarily back up that idea:

If I wanted to draw some conclusions from what I see here, I guess they would be that Murphy is an improving pass rusher (he averages around 40 pass rushing snaps per season), a reasonable tackler (career missed tackle rate of 13.2%, but 7.9% in ‘22), consistent in coverage (between 5 and 7 PBUs in every season, but 4 INTs in ‘21), and, if PFF is to be believed, a better run defender when he plays 75% or more of his snaps on either the boundary or in the slot than when he gets significant time in both positions.

Realistically, I think the picture I see of Murphy is that he is a highly flexible corner, capable of playing either on the boundary or in the slot, but his level of play is basically about average for an NFL corner (his PFF grade of 66.7 in 2022 put him at #51 on the PFF list for CBs with at least 250 snaps).

Murphy was considered, along with DT Zach Allen, to be the most likely player to get franchise tagged this week. When the Cardinals decided not to tag him at $18.1m, that put an upper limit on his likely contract in free agency.

CBS Sports recently released their list of free agent cornerbacks, and Murphy is listed at No. 4 behind James Bradberry, Jamel Dean and Cameron Sutton.

Contract value

Looking at the list of current CB salaries, Murphy appears to slot in with Kendall Fuller and D.J. Reed, who signed for APYs of $10m and $11m in 2020 and 2022, respectively.

With a little bump for a rising salary cap, I’d expect the 25-year-old Murphy to sign a 4-year deal worth around $48m (APY of $12m per year). The deal could be easily structured with a 2023 cap hit of between $4m and $6m.

If the team signed Murphy, which I think would be an acceptable move, it would likely be part of a succession plan in which the former Cardinal takes over from Kendall Fuller when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next season. Alternatively, the team could release Fuller immediately in favor of the younger Murphy for a net increase in cap space of $2m - $4m (cutting Fuller saves $8.5m).

If we assume that the team opts to keep both players, then, between them, Fuller and Murphy would man the slot in nickel cover. The 3-man “starting” unit of Fuller, Murphy and St-Juste would be solid, and the perceived pressure for the Commanders to draft a CB early would become a bit less intense.

Isaiah Oliver, 27, Falcons

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 195 pounds

NFL entry: 2nd round, 2018, #58 overall

2022 cap hit: $1m

BiB’s take

Isaiah Oliver looks like the budget version of Byron Murphy — that is, for a slot corner who also has experience playing on the boundary.

Oliver was taken in the 2nd round of the ‘18 draft by the Falcons, and his early performance as a boundary corner disappointed Falcons fans until the coaches moved Oliver into starting nickel corner role in Week 5 of the 2020 season.

At 6’1” and 195 pounds, Oliver is big for a slot corner, but don’t forget that Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio began the 2022 season thinking that the 6’3”, 205 pound Ben St-Juste was the right guy for that position.

Oliver is good in coverage, the basic responsibility of a DB; his tackling is a bit spotty, but he is an effective blitzer. Per PFF, in 42 pass rushing snaps since 2020, Oliver has produced 11 pressures (26%), 3 QB hits, and 2 sacks (4.7%).

In coverage over the past 2 seasons, Oliver has allowed opposing passer ratings of 96.8 (2021) and 72.4 (2022). In ‘22, he recorded 5 pass breakups and and interception. Take a look at his PFF grades for last season:

Oliver is a solid slot corner and part-time blitzer, but an inconsistent tackler (per PFF he has a career missed tackle rate of 12.3%, but it was a disappointing 17% in 2022).

As a 4th year player, Oliver suffered a knee injury in Week 4 of the 2021 season, and spent the rest of the final year of his rookie contract on IR.

Last season, the Falcons signed him to a 1-year, $1m contract extension (his 5th season in the NFL). Oliver didn’t play until Week 6 of the ‘22 season, but he averaged 29 defensive snaps per game — pretty normal for a nickel corner — for the final 12 games of the season. The knee injury from 2021 doesn’t seem to be a concern.

I’m not sure whether the Falcons will re-sign him before 15 March; they have the 2nd most available cap space in the NFL, but, of course, they don’t have a QB aside from Desmond Ridder, and with two free agent right tackles, a free agent starting middle linebacker, and a suspect group of wide receivers, they may have higher priorities than extending their 6th year nickel defender. Second-year player Dee Alford is a decent slot defender, and he is under contract for two more seasons at less than $1m per season, so they can probably afford to let Oliver walk if he wants too much of a pay raise.

If Oliver isn’t re-signed by the Falcons, I can’t imagine he’d have a robust market in free agency. Washington is probably one of the needier teams at the slot corner position, where McCain averaged 35 snaps per week over the final 8 games of the season. The only current player on the roster who looks like a slot corner is Rachad Wildgoose.

Oliver is a low-cost option at a position of need for the Commanders. While I don’t think Oliver specifically needs to be the guy that Washington goes after, assuming they don’t pay the more premium price for a guy like Byron Murphy, the front office should sign Isaiah Oliver or someone a lot like him to make sure the slot corner position is covered and the CB unit as a whole has sufficient depth before the draft.

KS4GM’s take

The description of the last couple of games for Isaiah Oliver in the 2022 season reminds me a bit of Bobby McCain’s last game of the 2021 season, against the Giants, where he went bonkers, grabbing two interceptions, just before becoming a free agent.

In the final two games of the season, Isaiah Oliver had 11 tackles, four pass breakups, and allowed only six catches on 12 targets for a total of 47 yards and zero touchdowns. Pro Football Focus also has a stat called ‘stops’ which are defined as “tackles that constitute a failure for the offense,” and Oliver had five of those against the Arizona Cardinals! Not to mention, he ended the season as the highest-graded defender for the Falcons.

That said, by the end of the year, it seemed as though his injuries were behind him, and that he was playing at the highest level of his five-year career. He’s got tremendous athletic upside and was a special teams contributor throughout his time in Atlanta.

In a recent press conference at the Combine, Falcons’ GM Terry Fontenot expressed how important the nickel position is in Atlanta’s defense, given the number of snaps that player takes, but didn’t mention Oliver by name, If the Falcons really want him, it’s unlikely anyone will outbid them, given the cap space they have available, but if they’re willing to let him go, it seems like Oliver could be a reasonable replacement for Bobby McCain, at the right price.


Considering everything, including cap hit, which profiled player do you think is the best choice for the Washington Commanders to pursue this offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    James Bradberry, 29, Eagles
    (19 votes)
  • 14%
    Emmanuel Moseley, 27, 49ers
    (78 votes)
  • 28%
    Byron Murphy, 25, Cardinals
    (159 votes)
  • 19%
    Isaiah Oliver, 27, Falcons
    (108 votes)
  • 34%
    I don’t like none of ‘em!
    (189 votes)
553 votes total Vote Now