2014 NFL Free Agents: Defensive Stars Who Will Have Biggest Impact on New Teams

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

Jun 10, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints safety Jarius Byrd (31) during minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason saw more than a few game-changers on the move in the NFL. With the growing importance of the passing game, a premium has been placed on securing the best cornerbacks and safeties on the market.

The free-agent market this year saw no shortage of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros available to the highest bidder. These were the kinds of players who can shift power in a division and potentially the Super Bowl race.

Below are four of the top defensive backs who changed teams in the last few months. They should have the biggest impact on their teams in the push for the postseason and beyond.


Brandon Flowers, San Diego Chargers

There's no getting around how bad the San Diego Chargers were against the pass last year. Football Outsiders ranked them 31st in that area last year while simultaneously handing them the worst defensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) in the league.

Everybody could see that San Diego needed to do something this offseason. Drafting Jason Verrett in the first round was a good start from the Chargers, but the better piece of business was signing Brandon Flowers.

Seeing the Kansas City Chiefs cut the 28-year-old was a bit of a surprise considering he was coming off a Pro Bowl season. Their loss is San Diego's gain.

Back in June, before Flowers had signed, Sports on Earth's Mike Tanier listed the Chargers as having the 29th-best secondary in the league.

Flowers alone can't transform the unit into an elite bunch of defenders, but he should help it go from awful to average. That might not sound like much, but that could be the difference between making the postseason and heading home after the regular season for San Diego.


Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots

Since Asante Samuel left after the 2007 season, the New England Patriots have failed to find that one cornerback who could go head-to-head with the opponent's best wideout. Devin McCourty had a great rookie season, but he hasn't repeated that magic.

Putting Darrelle Revis on this team is almost unfair. Depending on whom you ask, the 29-year-old is either the second-best or best corner in the league. As ESPN.com's Jeffri Chadiha wrote, Revis' potential impact on this defense is almost incalculable:

With Revis in the secondary, Belichick has more flexibility than he has had in years when it comes to defensive strategy. If you thought Talib had an immediate impact on this team's secondary because of his own ability to manhandle wideouts, just think about the options Revis creates for Belichick's game plans. Safety Devin McCourty should be even more of a ball hawk who can take chances on the back end.

Defensive end Chandler Jones could be even more dangerous after producing 11.5 sacks in a breakout season last year. A defense that was besieged by injuries (including the season-ending losses of stars such as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo) should have a swagger that hasn't been seen in those parts since Romeo Crennel was devising schemes as a coordinator nearly a decade ago.

It's not as if defense has been a major issue for the Patriots in the past, so adding Revis to the secondary is downright scary, especially with Brandon Browner on the other side.


Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos, on the other hand, have struggled against the pass, as demonstrated by their last two postseason exits. Joe Flacco exposed the Broncos corners over the top, while Russell Wilson surgically dissected Denver in the Super Bowl.

Despite nearing his 30s, Aqib Talib had one of the best seasons of his career in 2013. He intercepted four passes en route to the Pro Bowl, which was his first appearance.

While he won't improve the Broncos secondary by leaps and bounds, he's certainly the best CB they have at the moment. Talib has shown an ability to be a lockdown corner who can play on an island.

One of the risks for Denver is that Talib hasn't played a full 16-game regular season at any point in his six-year career. That's not a good look for somebody you're asking to be one of the focal points in your secondary.

Having DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward at least gives the Broncos cover in other areas of the field.


Jairus Byrd, New Orleans Saints

Chris Tilley/Associated Press

Most could see that the New Orleans Saints would improve defensively once Sean Payton returned to the sidelines following his suspension. Few foresaw the jump they experienced from 2012 to 2013. Two years ago, Football Outsiders ranked New Orleans dead last in defensive DVOA. The Saints moved up to 10th last season.

In order for them to get back to the Super Bowl, they'll have to take another step forward in 2014, and that can happen after the signing of Jairus Byrd.

Some might be wondering if the pressure that comes with moving from Buffalo to New Orleans will eat the All-Pro safety alive.

"I'm approaching this like every time I approach each year, just trying to get better and better each year," said Byrd, per ESPN.com's Mike Triplett. "Not looking at what you guys are saying about the money, the things like that. I'm approaching it as, 'How can I get better? How can I help this team?' Because it's not about me, it's about this team."

The back surgery Byrd underwent in May shouldn't be much of an issue by the time the regular season rolls around, with the 27-year-old recovering as planned.

Byrd is the kind of defensive difference-maker who can take the Saints to the promised land.