You’ve been reading along with our Projected Lineups series on a daily basis and have checked the PFF Free Agent Tracker more times than you can count, so you’ll be happy to see that we’re now ranking the top free agents available — the potential answers to the holes apparent on those team-by-team charts. We’ll be taking on a couple positions a day this week and discussing our Top 10 at each.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
Marching through our ‘Ranking the 2014 Free Agents’ series we’ve been through the QBs, RBs, WRs and OTs on the offensive side and the LBs, edge rushers and interior D-linemen for the defense, and now we come to the cornerbacks.
This is an excellent class of free agent corners that should take care of teams that have short- and long-term solutions in mind as there are a number of intriguing options out there. Factoring in performance, age, injury status, and possible off the field concerns for this list, here are the Top 10:
1. Brent Grimes – Re-signs with Miami
2013 Grade: +16.4
2013 Snaps: 1132
Brent Grimes was No. 1 on this list last year as well. He received a one year deal from the Dolphins last year, and after outplaying that contract he looks for his big payday. His overall grade of +16.4 ranked second among all cornerbacks. He is solid in both man and zone coverage and has great ball skills as his 14 passes defensed and 4 picks attest. Grimes was also one of only five cornerbacks to not allow a single touchdown pass last year, even though he was targeted 98 times (more than any other player on this list).
At 31 this could be Grimes’ last chance for some kind of long-term deal. With the franchise tag for cornerbacks hovering over $11 million per year and the Dolphins wanting to stay young, he could find that deal.
2. Aqib Talib – Signs in Denver
2013 Grade: -0.3
2013 Snaps: 856
Aqib Talib’s 2013 season was definitely a tale of two halves. He started off the season hot as his coverage grade was +6.6 after the first six games. After suffering a hip injury he was not the same player. From his Week 11 return to the end of the regular season his coverage grade dipped to -11.8. Despite his second half struggles, quarterbacks still only had a 72.3 rating when throwing his way and he still managed to snag four interceptions.
Talib will be the most difficult of these free agents to price. He is only 28, has great size, and at times shows the ability to be a shutdown corner. On the down side some teams will be leery of both his injury history and past off-the-field transgressions.
3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
2013 Grade: +13.0
2013 Snaps: 787
Rodgers-Cromartie is also another tough free agent to gauge interest in. He severely outplayed his one year deal with the Broncos and ranked as our fifth-highest graded cornerback in 2013. His 44.1% catch rate allowed ranked second in the league. He also ranked third in our signature stat, coverage snaps per reception, with a 15.7 mark, as he only trailed Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. His talent and potential is unquestioned. Teams will, however, be looking to gauge his commitment. He seemed disengaged on the field at times and even stated that he was contemplating retirement after the season.
With the aging Champ Bailey losing a step and the talented Chris Harris Jr. coming off an ACL, look for the Broncos to make a strong push to hold on to Rodgers-Cromartie.
4. Alterraun Verner – Signs in Tampa Bay
2013 Grade: +9.5
2013 Snaps: 1032
After a steady 2012 season, Verner started off 2013 on fire. He graded positively in each of the first six games. Although he wasn’t able to maintain that pace, he still finished 12th overall in our grading. Quarterbacks garnered only a 55.8 rating when throwing his way (the fourth-best mark in the league). Verner also finished tied for second in passes defensed with 14 and tied for third in interceptions with five, this also shows he has the ball skills to be a top cover corner.
With the Titans already paying Jason McCourty top dollar, Verner is almost sure to hit the market. At 25 years of age he is the youngest cornerback on this list.
5. Vontae Davis – Re-signs in Indianapolis
2013 Grade: +15.5
2013 Snaps: 951
Vontae Davis finished the year ranked third overall among cornerbacks. His +12.8 coverage grade only trailed Brandon Boykin for tops during the regular season. He also had the best game we’ve ever graded from a cornerback Week 7 versus Denver as detailed here in the PFF Page of Fame. This +7.9 grade against Denver did inflate his overall grade, and his 98.2 QB rating allowed when targeted in 2013 is a little concerning.
Overall, though, his 50% catch rate allowed, combined with his young age gives him enough upside to easily interest any team. The Colts are flush with cap space and have a weak defense already; it would be a tough hit to lose Davis.
6. Sam Shields – Re-signs with Green Bay
2013 Grade: +0.4
2013 Snaps: 900
Sam Shields didn’t grade out quite as well as he did in 2012 when he had our eighth-highest coverage grade, but still had a solid year overall in 2013. He only allowed 50% of targets thrown his way to be completed and his 16 combined passes defensed and INTs ranked him third overall. Shields could also be the fastest player in this group and displays explosive make up speed.
He is still a little raw in the run game and can get caught peeking in the backfield from time to time, but with Shields being only 26 and having great speed and playmaking ability, this former college wide receiver should still get plenty of teams attention.
7. Charles Tillman – Re-signs with Chicago
2013 Grade: -6.5
2013 Snaps: 438
Charles Tillman is one year removed from being arguably the best cornerback in football. Tillman is covered in depth here in an analyst notebook feature by Sam Monson. That article shows why Tillman isn’t just a one trick pony in a cover two defense. Tillman’s +23.8 overall grade and coverage grade each ranked third in 2012. At his peak he has phenomenal man and zone coverage skills, coupled with great instincts, size, and an uncanny ability to force turnovers. The only reason he is so low on this list is because of age (33) and the fact that he just came off of an injury-plagued season.
With the way the contract situation deteriorated last year between the Bears and Brian Urlacher, it’s tough to tell what will happen with Tillman. When it’s all said and done though a team may find themselves a steal with Charles Tillman.
8. Captain Munnerlyn – Signs with Minnesota
2013 Grade: +10.1
2013 Snaps: 992
Captain Munnerlyn is another cornerback who came into his own in 2013. He was always a solid special teams contributor, but his play at corner finally lived up to expectations this year. His overall grade is a culmination of his balanced play. He graded positively in all phases; penalties, coverage and in run support. Despite being a little undersized, his +4.8 run grade tops anyone in this Top 10.
With Carolina being pretty close to being capped out and having the task of trying to resign Greg Hardy, Munnerlyn could be playing for a new team next year.
9. Deangelo Hall – Re-signs with Washington
2013 Grade: -5.5
2013 Snaps: 1013
Deangelo Hall carries name recognition alone will draw him interest. He also has playmaking skills that most teams covet. His 13 combined passes defensed and interceptions in 2013 show that skill. He is still only 30 and should have a few productive years left. The main concern is his boom-or-bust potential. To go along with the big plays he has also allowed more yards than any other cornerback over the last three years. Note: The Redskins have locked up Hall to a 4-year deal. He is the first cornerback to fall off this list.
10. Tarell Brown – Signs with Oakland
2013 Grade: +4.4
2013 Snaps: 772
Carlos Rodgers is more of a household name in the 49ers’ secondary, but Tarell Brown has been San Francisco’s best cornerback over the last couple of years. In 2012 he finished with the fourth-highest coverage grade at +12.8. He was a little banged up at times in 2013 but still rebounded and was the niners’ top corner down the stretch and in the playoffs.
With San Francisco working on a deal for Anquan Boldin and trying to extend Colin Kaepernick, Brown should be able to test the market.
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You can follow Chris on Twitter: @PFF_CPhillips