With approximately $30-40 million in cap space, the New York Jets are pegged to be players when the new league year begins on March 3rd, 2014. Today, we look at free agent cornerbacks. Check out our look at Linebackers from last week here.
The New York Jets defense transitioned from a team built from the back of the defense (All Pro DBs and suspect defensive line play) to a team built from the front (All Pro DL and suspect DB play). The subpar play of Antonio Cromartie coupled with the growing pains of rookie Dee Milliner made opposing Wide Receivers getting behind Jets DBs on their way to the end zone a common occurrence. Not even the addition of future Hall of Famer Ed Reed rectified the porous play of the Jets secondary.
However, things are looking up because of the improvement in Dee Milliner towards the end of the season. Asked to shadow Browns All-Pro WR Josh Gordon, Milliner turned in his finest performance of the season with 8 passes defended. The rookie, then, held his own against Mike Wallace and rewarded the faith that Rex Ryan continued to show in him. The Jets now have an opportunity to rebuild what was once a strength for the team. Here’s who the Jets could target once free agency begins in two weeks.
1. Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee Titans
2013 Stats: 49 Tackles, 5 INTs, 23 Passes Defended, 1 TD, 2 Fumble Recoveries
Analysis: Verner officially arrived in 2013, as he was arguably the best cornerback in football not named Richard Sherman. Verner’s 23 passes defended were tops in the league, and he displayed a willingness to get physical with WRs (something he hadn’t done during his first two seasons). Verner, also, showed great instincts and a willingness to fight for the ball when matched up against bigger WRs like Andre Johnson of the Texans.
Likelihood: Verner’s performance this past season has most likely priced him out from the Jets pursuing. There has been speculation that he will join Mike Zimmer, and his former defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, in Minnesota. Let’s put this as a 2 for now, but Verner would be a great addition opposite Dee Milliner should his price range come down.
2. CB Walter Thurmond, Seattle Seahawks
2013 Stats: 7 Passes Defended, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Fumble Recovery, 1 Sack, 26 Tackles
Analysis: Thurmond was suspended this past season for the use of performance enhancing drugs, but before his suspension was a member of the Seahawks vaunted Legion of Boom secondary. Playing primarily the nickel back position, Thurmond’s versatility was on display often as he would move to the outside at times to allow Brandon Browner to cover the slot WR. Thurmond is physical and a sure tackler, two traits Rex Ryan loves in his DBs. Thurmond is an excellent man cover corner and has great coverage awareness and ball skills.
Likelihood: I’m putting this as a 7. Jets General Manager John Idzik was part of the staff that scouted and drafted Thurmond, and Thurmond should come reasonably priced as teams shy away from him, due to his suspension. Also, a lot of teams may view his play as a product of the Seahawks secondary. Thurmond would be an upgrade from what Antonio Cromartie gave the Jets last year, or as a nickel back over Kyle Wilson.
3. Sam Shields, CB, Green Bay Packers
2013 Stats: 51 Tackles, 4 INTs, 17 Passes Defended
Analysis: Shields signed his restricted free agent tender before the off-season last year and put together a very good season in a contract year. His 4 INTs were a team high for the Packers as Shields was one of the bright spots for an otherwise poor performing Packers defense. He, also, showed improvement in tackling and was used by defensive coordinator Dom Capers as a blitzer.
Likelihood: Shields earned $2.03M this past season and he is most likely looking for a raise. A deal in the $5M range would most likely get it done, and Shields is young enough at 26 where it seems his best football is ahead of him. I’ll put this as a 4 for now, barring him resigning with the Packers. The Packers haven’t ruled out franchise tagging Shields, but he would prefer a long term deal.
4. Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears
2013 Stats: 33 Tackles, 3 INTs, 3 Forced Fumbles, 7 Passes Defended
Analysis: Charles Tillman only played in 8 games for the Chicago Bears this past season as he battled injuries. However, the 33 year old veteran still made an impact as he was able to tally his 34th, 35th, and 36th career interceptions. He, also, had 7 passes defended in 8 games and showed that he was still able to wreak havoc on the football field by forcing three fumbles.
Likelihood: As insurance and competition for Antonio Cromartie and as a mentor for the Jets young DBs (Milliner, Darrin Walls, Aaron Berry, and Kyle Wilson), Idzik won’t find a better DB. Plus, last year was the first year since 2004 that Tillman battled injuries as he’s proven to be very durable. The Bears look to be installing a youth movement on defense, so Tillman’s days could be over. I’ll put this as a 4.
5. Terrell Thomas, CB, New York Giants
2013 Stats: 58 Tackles, 8 Passes Defended, 1 INT, 1 Foced Fumble
Analysis: Thomas bounced back from a torn ACL in 2012 to put together a nice season for him. He started 7 games for the Giants and showed no ill effects from the ACL injury. He displayed good lateral quickness and solid man to man skills. Thomas was, also, very good in run support.
Likelihood: If Thomas is 100% healthy from his torn ACL, as he displayed this past season, the Jets would be wise to sign him as competition and depth for the DBs.
Likelihood: His price would be lower than a guy like Brent Grimes (as you see, not on this list) and he’s a good enough DB that would benefit from the defensive line play that the Jets have. However, he may resign with the Giants (the team that stuck with him after the torn ACL), so I’ll put this as a 3.