2014 NFL Free Agent Defensive Backs
By: Roshan Bhagat
Brent Grimes [Miami Dolphins] - Showing no ill-effects from a season-ending injury, Grimes returned to form as a top corner in the league. Though he mirrors receivers in tight coverage, Grimes is among the best in the league at winning the battle on the backside where he deflected 16 passes and picked off 4 more. Grimes is likely to return to Miami—perhaps even on the franchise tag—but seeks a long-term extension. Given the end to his prior contract, it's very understandable why he may choose to pursue more money, if given the opportunity.
Aqib Talib [New England Patriots] - Talib has dominated opposing receivers for the better part of the last 2 years and developed into a corner that can be entrusted to face any receiver straight up on any given play. This length and skillset enables the Patriots more flexibility with pressure packages and secondary schemes. Only 28 heading into next year, the Patriots may have lucked their way into a top corner if the organization can find a way to keep him clean off the field.
Alterraun Verner [Tennessee Titans] - Verner has been a well-kept secret over the past few years as he's continued to improve year after year in the Titans' secondary. After establishing himself as the starting corner in the offseason, he continued to have a tremendous year for Tennessee's defense. Though they have Jason McCourty on the other side, Verner would provide the team with stability on the perimeter for a number of years. That said, Verner has expressed his intent to test the market despite his interest in returning to Tennessee.
Sam Shields [Green Bay Packers] - Working his way from wide receiver to cornerback at the U of Miami and from undrafted free agent to top dog in Green Bay, Shields is finally able to test the open market and secure a future for himself. The Packers will surely look to retain Shields who has been a terrific boundary corner for them, but if they aren't able to get a deal done by the start of free agency, there could be a number of teams enamored with his length and speed. A knee injury in the first quarter of the playoff game vs. San Francisco was fortunately diagnosed as only a bone bruise, which could have derailed his plans this offseason.
Vontae Davis [Indianapolis Colts] - The Colts are still struggling to piece together a defense and still lack talent in the secondary. Without several draft picks in the forthcoming draft, Indy will have to be prudent about how they spend their draft picks and make the right moves in free agency to compensate. With ample cap room, the Colts should be able to retain Davis with a reasonable attempt.
Tarell Brown [San Francisco 49ers] - Though Brown missed several games this year, he has proven to play up to a long-term contract in San Francisco. With the organization having built their roster around physical players, Brown complements the front 7 and fits the mold of what they want to accomplish on the perimeter.
Charles Tillman [Chicago Bears] - Peanut Tillman is emblematic of the success the Bears have had as an organization over the better part of the last decade. With physical, fearless football on the perimeter, Tillman set the standard for a cornerback in predominantly Tampa 2 and Cover 3 schemes. At age 33 heading into next season, Tillman has no plans of retire as he rehabs a torn triceps, but has acknowledged that a re-upping with Chicago may not be a guarantee.
Jairus Byrd [Buffalo Bills] - Among the top prizes in free agency, Jairus Byrd should have a number of opportunities to choose from. Though the Bills still have the ability to tag Byrd for a second consecutive year at around $8.5 million, it seems like an unlikely move given the nature of his response to the tag a year back. As a ballhawk and playmaker in the secondary, Byrd is a rare commodity in current landscape of the NFL where consistent safeties are scarce.
TJ Ward [Cleveland Browns] - Ward is a near polar opposite of Byrd, but should also warrant strong interest this offseason. Though he's consistent and generally dependable in coverage, Ward is a terror up around the line of scrimmage and a terrific hitter. The Browns should have the resources to bring him back for a couple more seasons and Ward seems amenable to the idea.
Antoine Bethea [Indianapolis Colts] - Bethea has been nothing but a consistent player in the secondary for the Colts defense that has seen plenty of turnover over the years. He isn't a turnover machine, but his reliability and ability to break down and tackle in space are assets that help patch up leaks across the field.
Donte Whitner [San Francisco 49ers] - After losing Dashon Goldson, the Niners seem to have found a suitable replacement in Eric Reid. Whitner isn't quite as explosive or the playmaker Goldson was and won't command nearly the same monetary commitment, but after capping off one of his finest seasons, the San Francisco should be able to pull the strings to bring him back next year.
Malcolm Jenkins [New Orleans Saints] - Malcolm Jenkins hasn't developed into the cornerback the Saints expected when they drafted him in the first round nor has he been an elite safety. However, with range and some man-to-man skills, Jenkins has become a safety known for consistent play in the secondary. With an explosive offense, that's just what they need from the position. It's hard to gauge his likelihood for return to the Saints because of the cap situation, but the organization will surely try to strike a deal.
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