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Free Agent Preview: Cornerback

Posted Feb 26, 2013


On the heels of a 2011 season in which the Rams cycled through a seemingly endless list of cornerbacks and, in some cases, took corners signed on Tuesday and started them on Sunday, the Rams entered last offseason with a clear priority on bolstering their secondary.

After hiring Jeff Fisher as head coach, the Rams set their free agent sights on Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Soon after the market opened, the Rams rushed to throw a lucrative contract at Finnegan and were able to close the deal.

Suddenly, the Rams had the leader and lynchpin they’d sought in the secondary and a group that the year before struggled mightily had hope.

Of course, the Rams didn’t stop there. They went into last April’s NFL Draft and spent valuable currency in the form of second and third round picks on corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.

What was a weakness became a strength as that trio plus Bradley Fletcher helped the Rams pass defense finish 15th, allowing just 225.1 yards per game. Likewise, a group that had provided just five interceptions in 2011 made ball hawking a habit in 2012 as the corners combined for 10.

With the start of free agency scheduled for March 12, the Rams have a far more settled cornerback situation. For most of the 2012 season, they carried just four corners on the active roster in Finnegan, Jenkins, Johnson and Fletcher while occasionally sprinkling in rookie Quinton Pointer.

As free agency approaches, the Rams have all but Fletcher under their control. Fletcher is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and isn’t expected to return after losing his third corner job to Johnson midway through the season.

Finnegan was banged up at the end of the season but still led all corners in tackles with 113 and posted three picks, a sack and eight passes defended. He’ll return to his role as leader of the secondary in 2013.

Jenkins had some ups and downs during his rookie year but came on strong toward the end and tied Hall of Famers Lem Barney and Ronnie Lott for most interceptions returned for a touchdown by a rookie with three. He also returned a fumble for a score, his fourth touchdown of the season, most by a defender in the league last year.

Johnson made the most of his chances early in the season and eventually worked his way into some late season starts when Finnegan battled a hamstring injury. He started the last two games and finished the year with two interceptions and eight passes defended.

Considering the likely loss of Fletcher, it stands to reason the Rams will be in the market for another corner. They won’t be looking for any high-priced free agents though and it seems more likely they’ll dip into a deep draft of corners to find another body to potentially compete with Pointer for a spot.

While teams still have the ability to use the franchise or transition tag on their players, this year’s free agent cornerback class does provide some intriguing options for teams looking to spend.

Miami’s Sean Smith, Baltimore’s Cary Williams and New England’s Aqib Talib figure to cash in big and players like Philadelphia’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Atlanta’s Brent Grimes and Jacksonville’s Derek Cox could also get strong paydays.


Cornerback

1. Sean Smith, Miami: Great size and skill package. If he ever puts it all together consistently, can be a lockdown corner.
2. Cary Williams, Baltimore: Crucial to Baltimore’s Super Bowl run, Williams will be high priority to keep for the Ravens.
3. Aqib Talib, New England: Wildly talented but has had major off the field issues and regular lapses in concentration. Could be a top corner if he gets it together.
4. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Philadelphia: Hasn’t reached the level of production that his early promise brought but still young enough to become the player many believed.
5. Brent Grimes, Atlanta: Coming off a serious Achilles injury, Grimes’ value isn’t what it was before but he still remains a very good corner when healthy.

Restricted Free Agents to Watch: Sam Shields, Green Bay; Robert McClain, Atlanta.

Others to Watch: Derek Cox, Jacksonville; Kyle Arrington, New England; Captain Munnerlynn, Carolina; Chris Owens, Atlanta; Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo; Quentin Jammer, San Diego; Keenan Lewis, Pittsburgh; Mike Jenkins, Dallas; Tracy Porter, Denver.

Rams Free Agents: Bradley Fletcher.

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