Originally published on Silver & Black Report on March 8, 2014
The Oakland Raiders struggled in the defensive backfield and now find themselves with both of their starting cornerbacks possibly departing in free agency.
Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders signed Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter last offseason to one year deals and neither one of them have been re-signed yet. The Raiders have also not re-signed starting free agent Charles Woodson yet making there another void at the free safety position.
This gives McKenzie a chance to reload and possibly build a better defensive backfield with some of the solid options available in this years defensive back free agent class. With teams able to talk to players tomorrow, it's time we take a look at some free agents that McKenzie and company may look at.
Alterraun Verner, age 25 - Verner has developed into one of the best corners in the league already at just 25 years young and looks to be the most highly-sought corner on the market this offseason. Verner, a California native, played his college ball at UCLA and has now played four seasons in the NFL, all with the Titans. According to Pro Football Focus, Verner has been a top-25 corner in all four seasons he's been in the NFL. Verner was asked to play more man-to-man coverage last season and finished second in the league with 22 passes defensed to go along with five interceptions. There's no doubt that Verner would be a solid signing for the Raiders but it isn't known if McKenzie will be willing to spend that kind of money on a corner. Verner is expected to be asking for a deal worth roughly $10 million per year. Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes signed a four-year, $32 million deal with $16 million guaranteed earlier in the offseason setting the mark for Verner and other free agent corners.
Aqib Talib, age 28 - There was early mutual interest for Talib to return to the Patriots but the talks seem to have died off since the beginning of the offseason. The Patriots don't have a ton of cap room currently and that will be a factor with attempting to re-sign Talib. The seven-year veteran is coming off of a one-year deal where he served as the Patriots' best cornerback and recorded 14 passes defensed and four interceptions in 13 games played. Like Verner, Talib will command a large contract as he has already stated he wants to be paid like a "top-of-the-market player". It will be interesting to see what kind of deal Talib gets with Grimes already receiving his aforementioned deal.
Sam Shields, age 26 - What would a Raiders free-agency discussion be without the mentioning of a former Packer? Shields and the Packers have been unable to reach terms of a contract and it appears that he will be allowed to test the free-agency market. Shields, now 26, originally signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2010 out of the University of Miami. Shields is hitting the market at the right time as he comes off his best NFL season, recording 16 passes defensed and four interceptions in his 14 starts this season. Shields possesses great speed and has continuously gotten better since signing with the Packers for a league-minimum in 2010. It will be interesting to see if McKenzie goes after another former Packer and how much money Shields will look for.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, age 27 - It seems like the Broncos would make Rodgers-Cromartie a priority to re-sign, especially with the departure of Champ Bailey and uncertainty with Chris Harris coming off of an ACL surgery. Rodgers-Cromartie has been able to revitalize his career after being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and producing two poor years. Rodgers-Cromartie helped lead the Denver defense that made its way to the Super Bowl as he accounted for three interceptions and 14 passes defensed in 13 games started. Some have questioned Rodgers-Cromartie's dedication to football after he stated he may retire if the Broncos won the Super Bowl, though he has since stated that he was not going to retire.
Tarell Brown, age 29 - Brown is an interesting prospect and former Colts GM Bill Polian went as far to say that he is the best cornerback in the free agency class on ESPN. If Polian is right and a team offers him big money like he's the best corner on the market, it seems unlikely that the 49er's will be able to match. Brown has also stated that "nothing" has been going on with discussions between the 49er's and his camp. Brown finished last season without an interception but did have 11 passes defensed in his 13 games played. Brown did however have four interceptions in 2011 and two in 2012 since becoming a starter in 2011. The market for Brown will be one to watch to see if it's a fair price that the Raiders could possibly lure him across the Bay into the Raiders locker room.
Captain Munnerlyn, age 25 - I mean, who wouldn't want a guy with the name "Captain Munnerlyn" on his team? But he doesn't just have the cool name, he has the game to back it up. Munnerlyn is coming off his best year and has been named one of the league's top 25 free agents avaialable by USA Today. Munnerlyn is just 5-foot-8 but plays much bigger than his listed height and recorded two interceptions for touchdowns to go along with 12 passes defensed. On top of being a good coverage corner, Munnerlyn is a better-than-average tackler as he only missed three tackles in 932 regular-season snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Munnerlyn may come at a cheaper price due to his height so he's worth keeping an eye on.
Vontae Davis, age 25 - It seemed like it would be likely that the Colts and Davis would be able to agree to terms but recent reports are that they are still "far apart" on a new deal. Davis is just 25 years old and has become one of the best young corners in the league due to his coverage skills and his physical play. Davis is coming off of a year in which he finished with just one interception and 12 passes defensed. Though time is running out, it seems likely that the Colts will try and match any offer that Davis may receive as the Colts have the fourth-most cap room coming into the offseason.
Jairus Byrd, age 28 - Though the Raiders already have Tyvon Branch, they currently have a hole at the free safety position due to Charles Woodson's impending free agency. Byrd is arguably the best free agent available in this years class and he just so happens to fill one of the Raiders' many holes on defense. The one problem may be just how much Byrd may be asking for and whether or not the Raiders want to invest that much money in the safety position as a whole. The Raiders area already due to pay starting safety Tyvon Branch $7.1 million next year. Byrd is a ball-hawking safety that possesses great coverage skills and would be a great addition to the Raiders defensive backfield. The 28-year-old University of Oregon alum is coming of a 2013 campaign in which he had four interceptions. In his 73 games played since entering the NFL, Byrd has recorded 356 tackles, three sacks and 22 interceptions. Adding Byrd would no doubt give the Raiders an above-average safety tandem but would be a lot of money to invest into the safety positions. Byrd will likely be asking for upwards of $8 million per year, with a hefty guaranteed sum.
Malcolm Jenkins, age 26 - Much like listing Shields above, Jenkins must be mentioned for his obvious association to head coach Dennis Allen having worked with the New Orleans Saints previously. Jenkins is just 26 years old and has already logged 71 games (63 starts) in his five seasons in the NFL, while recording 358 tackles, 4.5 sacks and six interceptions. Jenkins was selected 14th overall out of Ohio St. in 2009 and brings versatility much in the same way that Woodson provided it for the Raiders last season. Jenkins would come at a much cheaper price than Byrd (think maybe $3-4 million per year) but doesn't quite bring the same ball-hawking skills. Jenkins is just 26 years old and there's a chance that he can still progress to an even better safety. Allen and Jenkins likely know each other well from Allen's time as the secondary coach when both of their times there overlapped in 2009-2010. It seems likely that Allen will at least want to talk to Jenkins, especially if the team decides against bringing Woodson back.
Other free agent defensive backs not mentioned: Javier Arenas, KC; Walter Thurmond, SEA; Charles Tillman, CHI; Chris Cook, MIN; Brandon Browner, SEA; Corey Graham, BAL; Asante Samuel, ATL; Jabari Greer, NO; Louis Delmas, DET; Antoine Bethea, IND; Chris Clemons, MIA;