Free Agent Defensive Backs Preview

By PFC Writer Gerald Mallory Jr.

In years past, the middle linebacker was looked at as the cornerstone of the defense. Undoubtedly, this position still is vital for a team’s defensive success. There has been a shift; however, in the role of defensive backs. In some cases, there are teams that now use their defensive back as their leader on the field. Teams such as the Colts, Steelers, Eagles, and even Ravens feature their safeties in prominent roles playing both the pass and the run. The transformation of the defensive back was never more apparent than the 2009 NFL Playoffs. Of the four teams in their respective Conference Championships, all 4 featured Pro Bowl defensive backs, specifically safeties (Adrian Wilson of the Cardinals, Brian Dawkins of the Eagles, Ed Reed of the Ravens, ad Troy Polamalu of the Steelers). With these recent developments in mind, teams may be clamoring for top end safeties and cornerbacks. Safeties have begun to encompass larger roles in the defense and cornerbacks have the ability to change a game with one play. Lets take a look at some of the top free agent defensive backs for 2009.

Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland Raiders):

When you would look up the words “Lock-down Cornerback” in the dictionary a few years ago Champ Bailey’s name and picture would prominently show. He has now been replaced by Nnamdi Asomugha. At 6 foot 2 and 210 lbs, he has the size, speed, and instincts to make him the complete package at corner. At 27 years of age he also should have several years of spectacular play ahead of him. His lack of stats speaks volumes to the quality of player he is. In 2008 he had 40 tackles, 1 interception (INT), and 1 Forced Fumble (FF). Those numbers seem low but this is because quarterbacks rarely throw to a receiver being guarded by him. Even the top receivers struggle to get more than one catch against him. This current Pro Bowler would likely receive the highest contract for a cornerback in the 8yr/84 million-dollar range. The Oakland Raiders; who franchised him last year, are likely to do the same this year.

This is a risky move however as players do not like being franchised multiple years fearing injury may prevent them from ever receiving a long term deal. Many players threaten to hold out if franchised multiple years. If able to test the free agent market look for most teams with cap room and a need for a cornerback to come knocking. Some of these teams include the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, and Cincinnati Bengals. Could you imagine if the Denver Broncos; who also have cap room, make a move for him pairing Asomugha with Champ Bailey and moving Dre Bly to the nickelback? This is highly unlikely to scary to ponder.

Brian Dawkins (Philadelphia Eagles):
“B-Dawk”as he is called is the emotional leader of the Eagles and after Donovan McNabb is the most recognized player on the team. Known for his hard hits, motivational tactics, and camaraderie with teammates, Dawkins is loved by fans and teammates and feared by opposition. He is headed to his 7th Pro Bowl in 2009. His stats in 2008 were solid as usual amassing 75 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, and an impressive 6 forced fumbles. This was a big rebound ears after only playing in 10 games in 2007 with 37 tackles. At age 35, many speculate he is going to retire. If he decides to play, it is very likely that he remains with the Eagles. There is also an outside shot that he ends his career in his hometown Jacksonville and signs a short-term deal with the Jaguars.

Dunta Robinson (Houston Texans):

With the Raiders likely doing whatever it takes to keep Asomugha in Oakland, Robinson is considered by some as the next best skilled cornerback. Picked 10th overall in 2004, Robinson entered the league worthy of his 1st round status with 87 tackles and 6 interceptions. Unfortunately, his statistics have been declining instead of improving. Last year he only played in 11 games (with just 6 starts) and racked up 38 tackles and 2 INTs. From a talent standpoint, Robinson seems to have many of the tools to be an elite cornerback in the NFL. At 5 foot 10 and 184 pounds he has the speed to keep up with many of the faster receivers in the league. He is not known though as being a very physical tackler or stopper of the run. At only 26 years old he is an intriguing gamble that many teams may consider. Will he return to the form of his first few years and be the playmaker he was drafted to be or will he fall back to mediocrity ala his 2008 season? It is a risk those in need of a cornerback may be willing to take so look for the usual suspects in need of secondary help to look at him as a potential “diamond in the rough” signing. These teams include the Chiefs, Lions, and Bills.

The rest of the bunch:
Unfortunately, teams in need of secondary help will probably not find much via free agency this year. Although there may be more quality players available via team cuts, as of now the pickens are slim. Chris McAlister is another name to look out for. He is not likely to return to Baltimore. Only playing in 14 games the past two seasons, if a team can reach a short term deal with him he can be a low risk high reward player. In the aging safeties department, there is Rodney Harrison; who is likely to retire, and Lawyer Milloy. Milloy has at least 90 tackles the past 4 years so he may still provide depth on a team in need of it. Players like R.W. McQuarters, Allen Rossum, and Phillip Buchanon are good role players that can help fill out a 53-man roster. These players can play in nickel packages, start in case of injury, and are good return men and special team players. Every team needs players such as these who can fill multiple roles.