Brown has sat on the sidelines while the top wave of free-agent cornerbacks have worked out their new contracts. Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Sam Shields, Aqib Talib and Alterraun Verner have signed contracts averaging just over $8.7 million a year, leaving Brown toward the top of list of remaining free-agent cornerbacks.
There are no reports of any suitors being interested in Brown’s services, according to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. This isn’t a huge shock; the cornerback market has been somewhat shaken up by the news that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were parting ways with Darrelle Revis. Still, it’s a bit surprising that no one has publically made feelers toward a player with 42 starts over the last three seasons.
The 49ers were never in the market for a player like Revis, simply due to salary-cap considerations. However, every day that passes without someone offering Brown a huge contract is a good day for the 49ers. At the rate the first batch of corners was going off the market, there seemed to be no way the 49ers could put out a competitive offer for Brown.
The 49ers are reportedly valuing Brown at the same level as Tramaine Brock, according to Maiocco, which equals out to something in the neighborhood of $3.5 million a season. That’s a significant cut below any of the top free agents so far. If that was the offer, Brown was right to see how the rest of the league values him, but the lack of public interest could bring him back to the 49ers.
The 49ers are looking for value at the position. They know they don’t have too much room to work with under the salary cap and need to save some of it for extensions for players like Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith.
Therefore, they’ve been willing to sit and wait for the first wave of free agents to come and go before dipping their toes too deep in the waters.
Yes, they signed Antoine Bethea on Tuesday, but Bethea only has $6.5 million in guaranteed money. They weren’t going to break the bank on any one player, instead waiting for the initial frenzies to die down and then shopping for bargains.
Could Brown be that bargain? It looks more and more likely as time passes.
Bringing him back would be a best-case scenario for the 49ers. It would give the team massive freedom in the draft; with their biggest needs taken care of, they could take the best player available with nearly every selection.
Of course, it only takes one team to push Brown out of the 49ers’ range, and there’s still quite a gap between the $3.5 million the 49ers want to spend and the $8.7 million the top corners were getting. It’s entirely plausible that another corner-needy team, such as the New York Jets, could swoop in with an offer in the middle, pricing the 49ers out.
That’s why San Francisco has been putting feelers out on some of the other free agents on the market. Per Maiocco, the 49ers have spoken with the agent for Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll, for one. Carroll played every game last season, despite suffering through a slew of injuries.
Carroll is in pretty extensive demand for a potential depth corner, however.
He’s been linked to the Vikings, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Steelers, via Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. He is actually visiting the Bills, via La Canfora. He’d likely get more playing time in those spots, or at least not have to battle a player like Chris Culliver for a starting role. It might be something of a long shot to bring him in.
The 49ers have also been rumored to be looking at Vikings cornerback Chris Cook, according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee. He has the physical measurable the team normally looks for in the secondary—a tall, lanky player who can play in press coverage. He’s never quite lived up to his physical talents, however. He’s yet to record an interception in the NFL, despite 21 starts.
Honestly, neither Cook nor Carroll excite me too much. They wouldn’t be an improvement over recently released Carlos Rogers, though they would be cheaper. They’d be adequate as nickel cornerbacks, but that wouldn’t preclude the 49ers from drafting a cornerback high in May. It reminds me more of the Nnamdi Asomugha signing than anything else—a minor move to increase depth, but nothing more.
If the 49ers do miss out on Brown, I’d much rather them take a run at Champ Bailey. Yes, Bailey struggled in 2013 with nagging foot injuries, but he was great in 2012. On the 49ers, he’d be a depth player who wouldn’t have to carry the secondary by himself. He’d have enough plays off to rest his aging body.
He’d also bring some veteran savvy to a very young cornerback corps. The two starters as it stands now, Brock and Culliver, have a combined 13 starts between them. Bailey’s started 13 games or more in all but two seasons of his storied career.
Still, the ideal scenario would be Brown returning home after testing the market and finding it wanting. We’ll have to keep a close eye on the situation as it develops, but the longer the offseason goes without Brown getting an offer, the better it is for the 49ers.