If you’re an Eagles fan that can remember as far back as 2011, the words “free agent cornerback” probably makes you want to curl up into a fetal position or cry in the shower. And you’d be forgiven for it. Whether it be the big money signings of Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell or the stopgap solutions of Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams, Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin, it’s been a pretty bad run over the years.
Heading into free agency in 2017, the Eagles are once again looking for a long term starter at corner since trading Asante Samuel. The draft will offer plenty of opportunities to find a solution, but it’s unrealistic to expect a rookie corner to make a big impact. Bringing in a veteran could offer both short and long term solutions.
Looking at the big name or expected big money contracts for cornerbacks this year, you’d once again be forgiven for weeping in your car at lunch. None have started 16 games in any of the last three seasons, and the biggest pay days might be given out to the players with the shortest resumes. Cornerback is a seller’s market.
After one healthy season in five years with the Giants, Amukamara took a one year deal in Jacksonville and he once again missed time with injury. He’ll be 28 when the season starts, which puts him at an above average age of all the corners on the market. A team with cap space to burn (like the Jaguars last year) can afford to take a chance on him.
Bouye is expected to get a huge pay day in free agency. Buyer beware. Bouye entered the season with just eight career starts in three seasons, and began it as a backup, not starting for the Texans until Week 5. From there he locked down the starting job, and he was impressive in the playoffs. But despite not starting for a full season, he was 2nd in the league in pass interference calls and was the 4th most penalized cornerback in 2016.
There’s an obvious connection with Gilmore and Jim Schwartz from their time together in Buffalo in 2014. A five year starter—the last four he’s missed at least a game with injuries—Gilmore has plenty of history to evaluate yet will only be 26 when the season starts. He should do very well in free agency, and he expects to.
After three years riding the bench in Cincinnati, Kirkpatrick was given a starting job in 2015 when the Bengals let their starting CBs walk in free agency. In 2015 he was the most penalized CB in the league and had no interceptions, in 2016 he was the sixth most penalized corner. The Rams can cross him off their wishlist.
Johnson was franchised tagged last year as the Rams opted to keep him over Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins went on to play a major part of the Giants turn around in 2016, Johnson had a disappointing season. But then, the Rams as a whole had a disappointing season. With a new coaching staff, the Rams are understandably letting him walk in free agency this year. A team could convince themselves that Johnson’s decline in 2016 was part of a larger problem in St. Louis, and they could very well be right, but coming off the franchise tag that will be an expensive chance to take.
Ryan hasn’t missed a game in his four year career, but he he’s also never started a full season. For the Patriots, who mix and match players on a weekly basis—even Julian Edleman didn’t start every game he played this year—that isn’t as bad as it sounds. On the other hand, the Patriots consistently cycle through previously unknown players who don’t produce when they change teams, and corner is no exception with Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard going on to do nothing elsewhere.
When he’s healthy, Shields has been a good player. But there’s the catch. He hasn’t started a full season in his seven season career, and suffered a season ending concussion—the fourth of his career and second in a nine month span—in Week 1 of 2016. The Packers released him last week. And at 29 he’s he oldest corner on this list. He makes sense for a team that can afford to whiff on a short term deal, but a team looking for any kind of stability should look elsewhere.