When the Eagles are officially able to start adding players on March 12, rebuilding an underachieving secondary will be near the top of their list of priorities.
The draft will be critical, especially this year with a deep group of safeties and several starting-caliber corners. But that doesn’t mean Howie Roseman is just going to sit on the sidelines and observe during free agency. This is not an either/or situation. The Eagles have money to spend and holes to fill. They will likely address the secondary in free agency and the draft.
Keeping that in mind, who are their options at cornerback? It seems probable that they’ll just let Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie walk, and Nnamdi Asomugha too, unless they agree to a re-structured contract.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com recently put out a list of the top 85 free agents, and it includes 12 cornerbacks. Below is a table with all 12, including age, height, weight and career games started.[table “168” not found /]
Rosenthal has different categories for the free agents. Under Solid starters, he has Smith (22nd overall), Grimes (23rd), Talib (24th), Houston (27th) and Lewis (28th).
The Eagles reportedly will have some interest in Smith at the right price. He’s been inconsistent, but has good size, is young and has upside. Grimes, meanwhile, is coming off a torn Achilles’ and could sign a one-year deal. The Philadelphia native could be a “band-aid” option for 2013.
Talib has had share of off-the-field issues. Given the locker room problems the Eagles had last year, he doesn’t make much sense for this team. Houston is the most-experienced of the group and is only 28. Lewis is an intriguing name. He’s only been a full-time starter for one full season, has good size and is 26. Rosenthal called him the Steelers’ “best cover corner” last season.
The next group are Starters with questions, and that has Rodgers-Cromartie (38th) and Cox (53rd). The funny thing about DRC is he’s the classic “looks great on paper” player. He’s young, has size and speed, and has been to a Pro Bowl. Yet we know from watching him last year that he shies away from contact, is a horrible tackler and gets beat too often for someone with his skill set.
Cox, meanwhile, is another interesting name. He has good size, good experience and is only 26. But Cox has had trouble staying healthy. He missed four games last season because of hamstring and back issues. And Cox has missed 17 games the past three seasons due to injury.
In the Effective in the right role category, Rosenthal has Jones (56th), Williams (59th), Fletcher (61st), Cason (70th) and Jenkins (74th). Williams started 16 games last season for the Super Bowl champs, but is not considered a top-tier option. Cason is a former first-round pick, who is young and has good size. Fletcher is only 26, but has started just eight games the past two seasons. Jones (turns 30 in September) and Jenkins (not very good anymore) don’t seem like great options.
Here are performance numbers from last year, courtesy of Pro Football Focus:
Sean Smith, MIA 113 54.9% 6 2 85.1
Brent Grimes, ATL (2012) 56 44.6% 2 1 62.9
Aqib Talib, NE 80 65.0% 3 2 98.7
Chris Houston, DET 94 56.4% 3 2 78.7
Keenan Lewis, PIT 112 52.7% 3 0 80.7
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, PHI 81 56.8% 5 3 87.7
Derek Cox, JAX 89 60.7% 1 4 69.0
Adam Jones, CIN 69 53.6% 2 0 81.9
Cary Williams, BAL 135 64.4% 7 6 89.1
Bradley Fletcher, STL 34 47.1% 1 1 55.8
Antoine Cason, SD 97 67.0% 5 2 98.0
Mike Jenkins, DAL 27 63.0% 1 0 101.6
Some things that stand out:
* Smith had a good opponents’ completion percentage (54.9) and missed just four tackles all season, but only four corners allowed more touchdowns last season.
* Grimes’ numbers are from 2011 since he was injured last season.
* Houston’s charting numbers were really good in 2011 too. Football Outsiders measures success rate: the percentage of passes that don’t manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third down. Houston had a success rate of 60 percent in 2011, which ranked 18th in the NFL.
* Lewis led the league with 16 passes defensed, but also had eight penalties last season (tied for seventh-most).
* Cox only played six games in 2011, but had a spectacular success rate (74 percent). It was good in 2010 also (53 percent). On the flip side, he missed 15 tackles last season, per PFF, third-most among all cornerbacks.
* A couple other names that did not make Rosenthal’s list: Greg Toler and E.J. Biggers. Toler (6-0, 192) is 28 and has spent his career with the Arizona Cardinals. But he’s only started two games the past two seasons. Biggers (6-0, 185) is 25 and has played four seasons in Tampa.
* As you can see, there are quite a few young cornerbacks with good physical tools on the market. The Eagles aren’t going to make the splash they did before the 2011 season, but look for them to pursue at least one of the defensive backs on the list above.