Defensive backs in football are just like pitchers in baseball. Teams just can’t have enough. With offenses using more three and four receiver formations, teams have to have three or four cornerbacks and two safeties on the field.
No teams, including the Jaguars and Vikings, are set in the secondary. The Jaguars could upgrade the second safety spot and the Vikings could get better at nickel cornerback. Every other team could use multiple additions in the secondary.
Here are the best cornerbacks scheduled to be free agents on March 14.
#1 - Malcolm Butler, Patriots
Butler was the hero of the Super Bowl of his rookie season in 2014, despite starting just one game that season. He started all but one game since and posted at least 60 combined tackles, 12 passes defensed and two interceptions in each of the three seasons. Before Super Bowl 52 in February, it was hard to imagine that he would reach free agency and play anywhere but New England in the future. But, he was benched from the defense, a unit that got lit up in the Super Bowl by the Eagles. An explanation was not given, other than that it was a coach’s decision. Now, it is hard to imagine him returning to New England.
#2 - Nickell Robey-Coleman, Rams
Robey-Coleman was one of the top slot cornerbacks in free agency a year ago after he was a cap casualty in Buffalo. He ranked in the top 20 of Pro Football Focus’ grading system at cornerback. He is a cover-corner first and doesn’t do much in run support, but had nine passes defensed, two interceptions and one forced fumble in 15 games (four starts) in the slot.
#3 - Trumaine Johnson, Rams
Johnson is a bit of an under-the-radar free agent. It is highly unlikely he will sign anywhere other than with the Rams, but nobody is really talking about him as a free agent. He is a physical outside cornerback that has the size to compete with the big receivers of the league. Last season, was a step backward, but he still posted 65 combined tackles, 14 passes defensed, two interceptions and one forced fumble. If he does not re-sign with the Rams, he could be the steal of free agency this offseason.
#4 - Patrick Robinson, Eagles
Robinson had a breakout season for the Eagles last year. He tied career-highs in passes defensed (18), interceptions (four) and sacks (one) in 2017, but had just 47 combined tackles while starting eight of 16 games played. Prior to last season, the best year of his career was nothing more than average while playing for three teams seven seasons. Teams will have decide if they think 2017 was an aberration or did it finally click for him.
#5 - Rashaan Melvin, Colts
Like Robinson, Melvin had a breakout season for the Colts in 2017. Also like Robinson, he had not had a better than average season before that. Melvin started and played in 10 games last season and collected a career-high 13 passes defensed and three interceptions in his second season in Indianapolis. Prior to that he played in 12 games for three teams in four seasons in the NFL.
Underrated - Brent Grimes, Buccaneers
It seems like every year Grimes is an unrestricted free agent and every year he plays well. He isn’t one of the best cornerbacks in the league, but he does his job and isn’t a liability. He can start for just about any team. Every year since 2008, with the exception of his one-game season in 2012, he has recorded at least 11 passes defensed and 49 combined tackles. He is fourth among active players in interceptions behind DeAngelo Hall, Terence Newman and Aqib Talib.
Here are the best safeties scheduled to be free agents on March 14.
#1 - Lamarcus Joyner, Rams
The Rams decided to use their one franchise tag this offseason on Joyner. He is undersized at 5-feet-8-inches tall, but had nine passes defensed and three interceptions while ranking third on Pro Football Focus’ list of safeties last season. He is a playmaker at the back of the defense that can make up for the mistakes of other players.
#2 - Morgan Burnett, Packers
He only played 12 games last season and had the fewest or tied for the fewest totals in combined tackles (69), sacks (zero after posting three in 2016), passes defensed (three) and interceptions (zero). However, the Packers cornerback situation is a mess and Burnett is one of the better safeties in the league. His backend playmaking ability would make any defense better.
#3 - Tre Boston, Chargers
After three average seasons with sparse starting time with the Carolina Panthers, Boston had a breakout season in 2017. He signed last offseason to a one-year deal and recorded career-highs in combined tackles (79), passes defensed (eight) and interceptions (five). He certainly deserves a multiple-year deal to be a starter somewhere, presumably with the Chargers.
#4 - Ricardo Allen, Falcons
Allen posted a solid rating from Pro Football Focus, but the numbers don’t necessarily reflect the grade. His combined tackles, passes defensed and interceptions each dropped from 2016. The passes defensed and interception production has steadily dropped each of the three years played in at least one game for the Falcons. He is undersized, but still should get a long look in 2018.
#5 - Eric Reid, 49ers
There was a lot of hype surrounding Reid when the 49ers drafted him 18th overall in the 2013 draft. However, the production hasn’t quite matched it. He hasn’t been able to match his rookie production in combined tackles (77), passes defensed (11) and interceptions (four). With that said, he has had at least 62 combined tackles and seven passes defensed in each of the last three seasons while recording three interceptions and two forced fumbles.