The San Francisco 49ers have been hoping they can re-sign cornerback Tarell Brown to a team-friendly contract. Unfortunately, early signs point to a free-agent market willing to pay big bucks for solid cornerbacks like Brown.
Even though free agency proper doesn’t begin until Tuesday afternoon, three potential free-agent contracts have been determined, thanks to players signing with their original teams. The Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins have set the market rate for free agents this year, and it’s not good news for the 49ers.
Five days later, the Packers re-signed Sam Shields on another four-year deal, a year after he set career highs in starts, tackles, pass breakups and interceptions. Rounding out the re-signed class was DeAngelo Hall, whom the Redskins made a deal with back in February.
None of the deals were particularly cheap, either:
|Free-Agent Cornerback Contracts|
Those are some frightening numbers for San Francisco. Brown’s considered by many to be right up there with the Grimes and Shields of the world. ESPN’s Bill Polian ranks Brown as the best cornerback on the market this year, while others have him ranked highly as well.
Statistically, while Brown failed to record an interception last season, he compares well to Grimes and Shields. Receivers targeted when Brown was covering them caught the ball 57.5 percent of the time last season, compared to Grimes’60.2 percent. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown gave up fewer yards per snap he was in coverage (1.11) than either Shields (1.29) or Grimes (1.19).
Put into English, while Brown didn’t create turnovers last year, he kept his receivers from catching the ball or going anywhere when they did. With only 155 yards after contact allowed, receivers didn’t slip past him into open space, either. Brown keeps the play in front of him and prevents disaster from occurring. That’s valuable, even without a large number of turnovers.
Too valuable, as it turns out. The 49ers are strongly considering cutting Carlos Rogers due to his cap figure of $6.6 million. They need to save room to extend Colin Kaepernick and possibly re-sign Donte Whitner. There’s almost no way they could afford to give Brown a contract in the same ballpark as Shields' new deal.
That does, however, seem to be the going market rate for top cornerbacks now, and that’s a problem. While the team still hopes to re-sign Brown, CSN Bay Area currently reports that “nothing” is going on in terms of talks between player and club.
That means Brown will at least get to see what value other teams will place on him. The Packers, apparently, consider the value for a solid cornerback to be $10 million a season. While that seems extraordinarily high, the truth is, it only takes one team to make a sky-high offer like that.
With Shields' and Grimes' new deals out in the open, each and every free-agent cornerback is going to point and ask why they’re not worth that kind of money. Brown may not be a high-profile shutdown-style cornerback, but he’s a proven, solid veteran, and he should earn some serious cash somewhere.
Assuming this is the new market reality, it also prices the 49ers out of any of the other top cornerbacks on the market, including Vontae Davis of the Colts, Alterraun Verner of the Titans and Captain Munnerlyn of the Panthers.
If the 49ers are priced out of the top corners on the market, the wisest decision would be a two-pronged strategy. First, they would want to use a high pick in this year’s draft on a cornerback. TCU’s Jason Verrett is my corner of choice toward the end of the first round, but it’s a fairly deep class with a number of viable options.
Secondly, with the possibility of losing Rogers, Brown and Eric Wright on the table, the 49ers would want to bring in a cheaper, second- or third-tier veteran cornerback. Perhaps, then, the 49ers would be a logical landing place for Champ Bailey.
Bailey was released by the Broncos, as he’s not worth anywhere near the $9 million he was owed for 2014. He missed significant portions of last season due to injury, but was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2012 and has no plans to retire quite yet.
San Francisco has something few other teams can offer Bailey—a chance to win that elusive Super Bowl ring. That’s the one thing missing from his storied career, and San Francisco might give him the best chance to get back to the big game in 2014.
The 49ers also could give his aging body rest, as he’d be a rotational player. He’d be behind Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver on the depth chart and might even get passed by the rookie. That leaves him as a nickel or dime corner who could come onto the field when necessary, helping his aging body recover.
If the 49ers think Bailey’s too old, there are other options—players like the recently released Antonio Cromartie or Nolan Carroll from Miami. The market, however, does seem to dictate that the 49ers will be shopping for a dime cornerback, not a starter.
There’s still hope the team can come to an agreement with Brown, but those hopes are a lot dimmer than they were only a week ago.