In free agency last season, the Giants surprised many by signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a 5 year, $35 million dollar contract. The cornerback proved worth the money, playing through hamstring, shoulder, and ankle injuries to turn in the best season among Giants defensive backs. Other cornerbacks didn’t share in his relative good fortune. Prince Amukamara tore a biceps muscle and missed 8 games. Fellow free agent Walter Thurmond tore a pectoral muscle in just his second game with the team. Trumaine McBride, his replacement as slot corner back, broke a thumb and needed surgery to repair it, ending his season after just six games. And so went the game of musical cornerbacks for the Giants in 2014.
Thurmond does not seem likely to return this season, as the two sides are far apart on his market value going into free agency. The Giants are wary of offering close to the $3 million they paid in 2014, given his injury history, and Thurmond is not inclined to accept the veteran minimum. Rodgers-Cromartie, Amukamara, and McBride will form a trio of talented cornerbacks on which the Giants will base the foundation of a strong secondary.
Joining them will be tendered exclusive rights free agent Chandler Fenner who played well in limited action, Mike Harris, a free agent emergency replacement, and Jayron Hosley, the 3rd round draft pick from 2012, who has coaches raving about his natural talent, but has never put it together on the field. The Giants hope Steve Spagnuolo can turn his career around as he did Corey Webster’s in 2007. Rookie Bennett Jackson, the team’s 2014 6th round pick, was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, and will be in camp.
As the NFL continues to place a higher emphasis on passing, having a stable of talented cornerbacks becomes paramount in playing successful defense. This is especially true in the NFC East where the Philadelphia Eagles play Chip Kelly’s hurry-up spread-em-out style offense that is designed to isolate defenders and exploit bad match-ups. Look for the Giants to bring another free agent cornerback to replace Bowman and compete McBride for the nickel cornerback spot on Giants defense. There are several options the team should consider.
When looking for a cornerback, coverage ability to first and foremost the skill needed to succeed. Anyone who say Hosley trailing five yards behind opposing receivers before he was benched can attest, if you can’t stay with your assignment, you won’t be on the field for long. Supporting in the run game is a bonus, as some cornerback relish the contact going up and taking on blockers and tackling opposing runners. Other shy away and are the difference is often what distinguishes a starter from a role player. Finally, if the cornerback can blitz successfully, it’s a bonus, and gives a defensive coordinator, especially one who like to bring heat like Spagnuolo, another option to use to confound opposing quarterbacks.
Performance information is compiled from profootballfocus.com, the independent website that analyzes every player, every snap, and assigns a grade. It’s are subscription site, but worth if for those who want to be able to evaluate player talent with a critical eye. Contract information is from overthecap.com.
Brandon Flowers, 29, 5’10”, 190 lbs, 8th season, San Diego: A slot cornerback, Flowers has the cover skills to handle those jitterbug receivers that spray out from that position. He also provides run support and can blitz effectively. A knee injury in 2013 cost Flowers 3 games, but he started 14 games for the Chargers in 2014, and was highly effective, making the injury less concerning. With 20 career interceptions, Flowers has shown a nose for the ball. His salary, $3 million last season, might by too much for the Giants to fit under the their cap.
Kareem Jackson, 26, 5’10”, 192 lbs, 6th season, Houston: Coming off a sprained MCL, Jackson started 13 games in 2014 and played excellent pass coverage. He is also not afraid to take on blockers and make plays in run defense. His salary demands will be significant, as he will want an increase on his $4.3 million compensation from 2014, making him an unlikely match for the Giants, but that’s also what was said about Rodgers-Cromartie last year.
Byron Maxwell, 27, 6’0″, 202 lbs, 5th season, Seattle: Maxwell is coming off a bad year in 2014, but has shown to be good cover cornerback with below average run support skills. Considered one of the top cornerbacks on the free agent market, he has been linked with the Philadelphia Eagles following their salary cap purge this week. Given his injury history, lack of run support, and supposed salary demands, Giants360 is down with Maxwell being a member of the Chip Kelly version of the Eagles Dream Team II.
Limited Snap Options:
Javier Arenas, 27, 5’9″, 195 lbs, 6th season, Atlanta: Offering coverage skills and little else, the undersized arenas is a veteran minimum option who has previously played for Kansas City and Arizona. While not suffering any significant injuries in his career, Arenas has started only 12 of 69 career games and would be a passing down specialist.
Darius Butler, 28, 5’10”, 180 lbs, 7th season, Indianapolis: Considered one of the top slot cornerbacks in the NFL, Butler would be an ideal replacement for Thurmond. Another veteran of three NFL teams, Butler may be too expensive for the Giants, as his 2014 salary was $3 million. If Spagnuolo has doubts about McBride’s ability to man the slot cornerback position, structuring a contract to lower the 2015 cap hit and bringing in Butler would be the solution.
Davon House, 6’0″, 188 lbs, 5th season, Green Bay: A shoulder injury limited House to just 13 games for the Packers in 2014, but he provided good coverage, and started 4 of those 13 games he played. He’s doesn’t provide much in the way of run support, and only has two career interceptions, but would be a veteran minimum option to compete for a job in training camp.
Sterling Moore, 25, 5’10”, 190 lbs, 5th season, Dallas: Playing two seasons for the Patriots, and two for the Cowboys, Moore has seen his skills improve consistently every year. The only caution is that he may be a cover two cornerback and his skill set won’t translate to a different style of defense. He has the top coverage rating among the limited snap group, is not afraid to get his uniform dirty when opponents run the ball, and started 7 games for the Cowboys in 2014. A knee injury cut his 2012 season short, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed Moore down, and his 2014 salary of $645,000 shown that his salary demands would be reasonable, if the Giants this he would fit their scheme.
Alan Ball: 29, 6’1″, 176 lbs, 9th season, Jacksonville: Before a biceps injury cut his 2014 season down to just 7 games, Ball was struggling, but has shown himself to be a complete cornerback in the past, with good coverage skills and the ability to play the run. His 2014 salary of $1.3 million is affordable under the salary cap, making him an option worth exploring for the Giants. If he bounces back to his 2013 form, and he should, at only 29 years of age, he could provide a boost to their secondary.
Rashean Mathis, 34, 6’1″, 200 lbs, 13th season, Tampa Bay: Mathis played well despite his advanced age in NFL years and this highest rated of the cornerback in this group. A veteran minimum cornerback, he provided the Buccaneers with a top return on their investment. As Lovie Smith is another coach who favors the Tampa Two style of defense, that same scheme caution must be raised on Mathis as with Moore, but if the Giants coaches believe he can fit their style of defense, he is worth pursuing.
Tramon Williams, 31, 5’11”, 182 lbs, 9th season, Green Bay: Playing though a significant ankle injury in 2014, Williams turned in a solid season and managed to start all 16 games for the Packers. While no longer dependable in run support, Williams provides coverage ability and would be an asset to the Giants secondary. If he seeks to match his 2014 salary of $9.5 million and maintain his starting job, Williams and the Giants are not a match, however, if he is looking for a role and more reasonable contract, structured to be cap friendly with a team set to compete in 2015, Williams would be wise to consider the New York Giants.
If the Giants don’t add a free agent cornerback, they will take one in the 2015 draft. One of the lessons learned last season is that you can’t have enough quality depth at the position. Quality is also the reason that Zack Bowman and Chykie Brown won’t be re-signed. Neither acquitted themselves admirably last season, with Bowman often out of position and seemingly afraid of contact on running plays. Brown’s coverage skills were soft, for lack of a better term.
We started our review of free agency in the secondary with safeties and have come full circle to end back in the same place. With the “Legal tampering period” opening today at noon, the free agent market will start to heat up. On Monday morning, we will post our primer, with the 5 free agent we think the Giants should actively pursue from among the dozens identified in these articles. Keep watching this space, and the Giants360 Twitter for the latest news, notes, and rumors, as well as some wit and sarcasm about the NFL in general and your favorite team, the New York Giants.
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