Protecting Matt Ryan and bolstering the defensive line must be the focal points of the offseason, but the Falcons cannot overlook their need at cornerback either. Robert Alford may be on his way out the door if he is not willing to restructure his contract, and Brian Poole is set to hit restricted free agency as well. Atlanta is going to have to add a cornerback through the draft or free agency, and it may be a more pressing need than people realize. The problem is the free agent market for cornerbacks is not filled with many notable names, so the draft may be the best place to patch up the secondary. Here are some players to watch out for on the market.
It’s not ideal when arguably the top cornerback in this year’s free agent class is coming off a torn ACL, but that’s the case with Darby. While a quality #1 option, he’s not going to be the next Stephon Gilmore in free agency that becomes an All-Pro two years down the road. Although, Eagles fans will tell you just how important he was to their 2017 championship run. He’s probably too pricey for what Atlanta wants to spend at the position, but he would immediately add some clout to the Falcons secondary.
The Texans have a number of players set to hit free agency, which means Jackson could be a player looking for a new home this offseason. At 31, he’s coming off one of his best seasons as a pro playing corner and safety. Jackson probably won’t cost a boatload, but who knows how much longer he can stay productive at cornerback at his age. He may be better suited to play safety as his career winds down, and the Falcons are set at that position.
Nelson is probably the safest high-quality option on the market. He will be 26 next year and coming off another fantastic year in which he was the Chiefs top cornerback option. However, he’s probably going to cost far more than what the Falcons are looking to spend at the position – and considering how poor the Chiefs’ secondary was this past season – he should be a top priority for them in free agency.
File Verrett under the category ‘high-risk, high-reward’, because that’s exactly what whoever signs him will be looking at. In his five-year career, the most games he has ever played in is fourteen. That year (2015), he started in all fourteen games, recording 3 interceptions and 12 pass breakups on his way to the Pro-Bowl. Unfortunately, Verrett could only play in four games in 2016, one game in 2017, and missed the entire 2018 season with a torn Achilles. If he could ever stay healthy, he might be the best cornerback on the market, but I’m not sure how anyone could offer him a long-term contract.
Desir came out of nowhere to help push the Colts to the playoffs. In 16 games (12 starts), he recorded 79 tackles, eight passes defended, two forced fumbles and an interception. Desir is coming off of a one-year contract worth only $1.5 million. He’s in for a massive pay raise, and I don’t think the Colts will let him out of Indianapolis.
The Patriots decided to trade for McCourty last offseason, reuniting him with his brother, Devin McCourty. It’s difficult to tell what the Pats are going to do next with their free agents, but I could see McCourty as a veteran option in Atlanta. At 32, He still has the skill for the position, even if he is not the most physical presence.
I told you this class didn’t have a whole lot of quality talent, didn’t I? Somehow, the estranged former #6 overall pick out of LSU is one of the better corners in free agency. When on the field, he still shows some flashes of why he was a top-ten selection. Unfortunately, he has had four seasons where he has played less than twelve games and has never played a full sixteen-game season.
I stayed away from many of the players who were nickel-corners because I feel there’s a good chance Brian Poole is back in Atlanta, and Damontae Kazee is another in-house option that could occupy the slot. But even if I did include those options, this list would not look much different. It is slim pickings in the free-agent cornerback market, which often leads to inflated prices. Since cornerback is not their most pressing need, finding a reliable player in the draft is the much safer and cheaper route.