Highlighting Every NFL Team's Cornerstone Player

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIMay 21, 2013

Highlighting Every NFL Team's Cornerstone Player

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    A cornerstone NFL player is designed to hold the franchise together. Just like the cornerstone of a building, a cornerstone player is the strongest and most important part of a franchise.

    In order for a team to be successful in this league, they need to have the type of player they can count on at all times. While some teams have strong cornerstones, other franchises are lacking a true cornerstone on which to build.

    Today we'll highlight every NFL team's cornerstone player and break down what makes each specific player a cornerstone.

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver

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    Since being drafted in 2004, Larry Fitzgerald has been the cornerstone of the Arizona Cardinals. While the franchise has had up-and-down success since then, Fitzgerald has excelled as being the premier player in Arizona.

    Not only has he been an extremely productive player (764 career receptions, 10,413 receiving yards and 77 touchdowns), but he's also been the prime example of how an NFL player should carry himself off the field. You never hear about off-field issues surrounding Fitzgerald like some of the other high-profile players in the NFL.

    However, what truly makes Fitzgerald such an ideal cornerstone is the fact that he's completely committed to the Cardinals. Even without any type of quarterback on the roster for the past handful of seasons, Fitzgerald has never wavered in his desire to be in Arizona.

    If you're looking for a prime example of what a cornerstone player should look like, you probably don't need to look any farther than Fitzgerald. 

Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan, Quarterback

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    Matt Ryan is the perfect example of a cornerstone player bringing instant success to a franchise. 

    In Ryan's first season he led the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs despite dealing with the pressure left from the Michael Vick situation. While he missed the playoffs in his second season, he's successfully turned the Falcons into one of the best and most successful franchises in the league.

    Atlanta is a perennial Super Bowl contender because of Ryan. It boasts its most talented roster in years and a team that is built for success because of the foundation laid with Ryan as the cornerstone.

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco, Quarterback

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    Two years ago there would have been no way that Joe Flacco was the cornerstone player for the Baltimore Ravens. Heck, even until the 2012 playoffs there were major questions about Flacco being the Ravens' starter for the 2013 season.

    Flacco, however, put those questions to rest with a stellar playoff performance and a Lombardi trophy. He's now the second-highest paid player in the NFL, behind only Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers.

    A few years ago this honor would have gone to either Ray Lewis or Ed Reed, but Flacco appears fully ready to become the cornerstone that Baltimore needs.

Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller, Running Back

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    The Buffalo Bills are one of a handful of teams who could really use an upgrade in their cornerstone player. C.J. Spiller basically garners the honor by default heading into the 2013 season.

    The Bills don't have a quarterback and Jairus Byrd doesn't make a big enough impact on defense to be considered a cornerstone player. Spiller, on the other hand, is one of the most exciting players in the league.

    The only problem with Spiller is that he hasn't had a full season to prove that he's capable of truly carrying a team. He's started only 21 games in his three-year career, rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time this past season.

    Spiller has a great opportunity to truly become the face of the franchise during the 2013 season. He's an exceptionally talented player who could easily become one of the best running backs in the NFL this year.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, Quarterback

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    While the Carolina Panthers haven't really seen the fruit of their franchise player, it's only a matter of time before that happens. Cam Newton has easily shown in his first two seasons that he's more than capable of becoming a true cornerstone.

    As far as potential goes, few players in the league have as much as Newton. He's one of the few players where the sky is literally the limit in terms of his impact on the game of football.

    Newton's third season could finally be the one where the Panthers turn the corner as a team. If that happens, he'll have to be considered one of the premier cornerstones in the league.

Chicago Bears: Lance Briggs, Outside Linebacker

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    As much as the Chicago Bears would love for Jay Cutler to be the cornerstone player of the franchise, that simply isn't the case right now. No, that honor currently belongs to Lance Briggs.

    For the past decade, everyone would have considered Brian Urlacher the cornerstone in Chicago, but now he's moved on and passed the torch to Briggs. To be honest, Briggs has been the best defensive player on the Bears' roster for a few years, but now he'll have to shoulder the responsibility of being the true leader on the field.

    This could finally be the year that Cutler becomes the player that Chicago hoped he'd become when it first traded for him. However, until that happens, the cornerstone title belongs to Briggs alone.

Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, Wide Receiver

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    The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, so it's no surprise that their cornerstone player is second-year receiver A.J. Green.

    Green has not only established himself as the most important player in Cincinnati, but he's become one of the best receivers in the entire league. He had a phenomenal season in 2012 when he posted 97 receptions, 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    The scary part for defenses around the league is that Green is only going to get better. As he does that, he's only going to more firmly cement his position as the Bengals' cornerstone player.

Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, Running Back

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    When the Cleveland Browns drafted Trent Richardson with the third overall pick of the 2012 draft, they obviously had high hopes about what he could do for the franchise.

    While Richardson might not have had the impact many expected him to, he certainly proved that he is a player worth building around. There were a handful of games when Richardson literally carried the Browns to a victory, which is becoming less and less common with running backs these days.

    The 2013 season should be a great chance to see just how great of a cornerstone player Richardson can be for Cleveland.

Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo, Quarterback

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    The Dallas Cowboys have a couple of potential cornerstone players in DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant. However, Tony Romo has been the cornerstone player for the Cowboys the past few seasons, and he'll remain that player heading into this season.

    While Romo gets a ton of criticism from media and fans, there is no doubting that he is really one of the better quarterbacks in the league. There are times when he attempts to do too much for his team, but he easily does more good than bad for the Cowboys.

    Within the next few seasons it's possible that a player other than Romo becomes the cornerstone player, but Romo is the main man in Dallas right now.

Denver Broncos: Von Miller, Outside Linebacker

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    Are you surprised to not see Peyton Manning here? Well, there are a handful of reasons why Manning simply can't be considered the cornerstone player for the Denver Broncos.

    For starters, he's only been there for one season. While other franchises have cornerstone players who have only been with the team for a year, those players aren't 37-year-old quarterbacks.

    On top of that, Manning only has a handful of quality seasons left in him, so the Broncos can't afford having him as their cornerstone player. Instead, they'll rely on Von Miller, whose one of the best defensive players in the league, to be that cornerstone player.

    He's young, overflowing with talent and more than capable of being the leader in Denver for years to come.

Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver

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    Calvin Johnson being the cornerstone player for the Detroit Lions should be obvious to even the most casual NFL fan. 

    Not only is Johnson the best player at his specific position, but you could easily make the argument that he's currently the best overall player in the entire NFL. He's certainly head-and-shoulders above any other player currently on the Lions' roster.

    The best news for Detroit is that he's going to continue to be the best player for a long, long time. Now the Lions just need to put the correct pieces around him to truly be considered contenders.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback

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    In terms of having the best cornerstone player, that honor may go to the Green Bay Packers. Over the past few seasons, Aaron Rodgers has separated himself as the best player at the most important position in the league.

    Rodgers isn't just the best player on the Packers' roster, but he's the type of player that causes a team to completely crumble when he isn't on the field. Thankfully, Green Bay has only had brief moments when Rodgers wasn't on the field for that to happen.

    However, if Rodgers were to miss an extended period of time, you could pretty much guarantee that the entire franchise would crumble. If that isn't the definition of a cornerstone player, then I don't know what is.

Houston Texans: J.J. Watt, Defensive End

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    One of the reasons that the Houston Texans have been so successful in recent seasons is because they have a bunch of players who could be the cornerstone players on any given Sunday.

    Both Arian Foster and Andre Johnson deserved consideration, but at the end of the day, the most consistent and important player in Houston right now is J.J. Watt. He's coming off a near-historic season for the Texans and one that saw him bring home Defensive Player of the Year honors.

    What's crazy about Watt is that he's only entering his third season in the league. It's not a stretch at all to think that he's only beginning to tap into his potential.

    If that's the case, the Texans should be extremely excited that their cornerstone player has a chance to become even better.

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, Quarterback

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    In his rookie season, Andrew Luck took little time to establish that the Indianapolis Colts are now his team.

    He was the key to one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history. The Colts went from the laughingstock of the league to the playoffs in one year, and Luck was the main reason why.

    He's not only the cornerstone in Indianapolis, but he's the entire foundation, and a pretty good one, too.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back

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    One of the reasons why the Jacksonville Jaguars have struggled in recent seasons is that they don't have a strong cornerstone player.

    Sure, Maurice Jones-Drew is a great running back, but he has struggled with injuries in recent seasons. He missed two games in the 2010 season and 10 games this past year.

    Unfortunately, the Jaguars don't have another player on the roster that could even come close to being considered a cornerstone. That's good news for Jones-Drew, but terrible news for anyone who is a fan of Jacksonville.

Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles, Running Back

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    Despite being loaded with talented players like Eric Berry, Dwayne Bowe and Tamba Hali, it was hard to nail down the cornerstone player for the Kansas City Chiefs.

    However, the player who stood apart from the rest was Jamaal Charles. That's not just because Charles is the most talented player on the roster, but also because he's so crucial to any type of success that Kansas City wants to have in the future.

    Just look at the struggles the Chiefs had on offense during the 2011 season when Charles was out for the entire year. If this team is going to be a sleeper candidate for the playoffs this year, Charles will be the reason why.

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback

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    Let me start by saying that the Miami Dolphins have to be ridiculously excited that Ryan Tannehill is their cornerstone player. 

    Everyone considered him to be a major project coming out of Texas A&M, but he proved all his doubters wrong when he performed incredibly well throughout the entire season. In fact, Tannehill set franchise records for most attempts, completions and passing yards by a rookie.

    Tannehill is a top candidate to have a breakout campaign during the 2013 season. When the Dolphins become a threat to the AFC, Tannehill will be the main reason why.

Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson, Running Back

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    Naming Adrian Peterson as the cornerstone player for the Minnesota Vikings is about as no-brainer as they come. He's coming off a season where he rushed for over 2,000 yards and single-handedly carried Minnesota to the playoffs. 

    No player is more important to the success of his team than Peterson is for the Vikings. Without him, it wouldn't be surprising at all if Minnesota struggled to win even one game.

    Peterson proved to be superhuman in his recovery from a torn ACL and MCL, and the Vikings are going to need him to continue to be superhuman if they want to compete in the NFC.

New England Patriots: Tom Brady, Quarterback

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    Let's just take a quick look at Tom Brady's credentials. 

    Eight Pro Bowls, two MVP Awards, three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVPs and Gisele Bundchen.

    Yeah, I'd say it's pretty safe to call him the cornerstone player for the New England Patriots.

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, Quarterback

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    Drew Brees might be the only player currently in the league who could honestly say that he was the cornerstone for two different franchises. The first was the San Diego Chargers and the second the New Orleans Saints.

    When Brees is playing at a high level there isn't a team in the league as dangerous as the Saints offensively. When he's playing at his highest level, like he was during the 2009 season, New Orleans is unbeatable.

    As long as Brees is on the field, the Saints have a chance to beat any other team in the league. He's a cornerstone player in the fullest meaning possible.

New York Giants: Eli Manning, Quarterback

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    Despite winning the Super Bowl two years ago, Eli Manning is actually closing in towards losing his hold as the New York Giants' cornerstone player.

    The main reason for this is that Manning couldn't even lead the Giants back to the playoffs this past season. That's not good for any franchise, but especially not one with a fanbase made up mostly of New Yorkers. 

    Manning's biggest issue has always been his inconsistency, and that aspect of his game really showed during the 2012 season. Of course, knowing Manning he'll be right back to leading New York to the Super Bowl this upcoming season.

New York Jets: Geno Smith, Quarterback

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    It might seem crazy to consider a player who hasn't even played an NFL snap as the cornerstone of a franchise, but that's the case for the New York Jets.

    It's not so much that Geno Smith is currently the cornerstone player for the Jets, but more along the lines of he has to be the cornerstone player for the Jets. If he isn't, then who will be?

    It's not Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes or, God forbid, Tim Tebow (am I allowed to say that when referencing Tebow?). Darrelle Revis is gone and so that leaves Smith as the only viable option for a cornerstone player in New York.

Oakland Raiders: Sebastian Janikowski, Kicker

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    You know your franchise is struggling when your kicker is your cornerstone player. As much as I hated putting Sebastian Janikowski here, the Oakland Raiders simply don't have anyone else even close to being a cornerstone.

    That's just bad news all around for the Raiders.

Philadelphia Eagles: LeSean McCoy, Running Back

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    Forget about LeSean McCoy's struggles during the 2012 season. Heck, nearly every member of the Philadelphia Eagles struggled last year.

    The reality is that McCoy is the best player on the Eagles' roster and the player who makes everything go on offense. Not only is he dangerous on the ground, but he's one of the best receiving running backs in the entire league. He's the definition of a dual-threat running back.

    While McCoy's role could ultimately change in Chip Kelly's offense, it's also possible that he becomes an even more vital part to the offense in Philadelphia. Either way, McCoy is the cornerstone player for the Eagles.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback

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    You could really go with either Ben Roethlisberger or Troy Polamalu as the cornerstone player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. To be honest, neither choice would be wrong.

    Roethlisberger gets the nod here mostly because Polamalu started to show signs of slowing down last season. Big Ben, on the other hand, was as important as ever to the Steelers during the 2012 season. 

    Without Polamalu, the Steelers would still have a pretty good defensive core. However, without Roethlisberger the Steelers would be a major train wreck on offense. That, along with Polamalu's declining play, pushes the cornerstone title into Roethlisberger's corner.

San Diego Chargers: Eric Weddle, Free Safety

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    It was really difficult to not put Philip Rivers here for the San Diego Chargers. However, Rivers really appeared to lose control of this team last year.

    He's no longer the borderline elite quarterback that he was a few years ago. Instead,he's hovering more towards mediocrity.

    Eric Weddle, on the other hand, has become one of the league's best safeties over the past few seasons. In fact, Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller ranks Weddle as the single best safety in the game. 

    As well as having the ability to takeover games defensively, Weddle is also an excellent leader for the Chargers. Until Rivers can right the ship, if he can right the ship, Weddle needs to be considered the cornerstone in San Diego.

San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker

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    As much potential as Colin Kaepernick has to become a special player for the San Francisco 49ers, he isn't the cornerstone player right now. The 49ers still need to be considered a defensive-minded team, and Patrick Willis is the absolute leader of the defense.

    Willis has been the defensive leader in San Francisco since being drafted back in 2007. He's the one who makes the rest of the 49ers' defense such a successful unit due to his instinct and playmaking abilities.

    An outstanding player like Willis who a team can build a defense around is the perfect example of an excellent cornerstone piece.

Seattle Seahawks: Richard Sherman, Cornerback

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    For as much success as the Seattle Seahawks had last year, picking a cornerstone player for them was a rather difficult task. 

    Russell Wilson was certainly a candidate, but it felt too early to label him as the cornerstone player. Marshawn Lynch was another candidate, but his play and personality are too sporadic at times.

    In the end, Richard Sherman was the only real choice for the cornerstone player in Seattle. His 2013 season was one of absolute dominance where he made opposing offenses completely alter their game plans when playing him.

    It's likely that Wilson will eventually need to become the cornerstone player for the Seahawks, but until that happens, Sherman deserves that recognition. 

St. Louis Rams: Chris Long, Defensive End

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    One team that desperately needs an improvement in its cornerstone player is the St. Louis Rams. I'm sure they'd love for Sam Bradford to eventually become that player, but he simply isn't there yet.

    That means that the Rams have to rely on more of a role player like Chris Long to be their cornerstone player for the time being. While Long is a talented player, he wouldn't be a cornerstone player on many other rosters. 

    Hopefully, with the new weapons St. Louis drafted for Bradford, he'll be able to take that step towards becoming the cornerstone player that the Rams desperately need. However, until that happens they'll just have to live with Long as their cornerstone player.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin, Running Back

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    Doug Martin had an extremely impressive rookie season, gaining over 1,900 yards of total offense and 12 total touchdowns. His strong play, combined with the struggles Josh Freeman had last season, make Martin the only real candidate as a cornerstone player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Martin is the type of player that you can literally build an offense around because of his versatility. He's a threat in the ground game, but equally as dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.

    Now it's certainly a possibility that newly acquired cornerback Darrelle Revis becomes the cornerstone player in Tampa Bay after the 2013 season, but he'll need to prove he's his old self before that happens. For the time being, the Buccaneers will be content with having Martin as the cornerstone player. 

Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson, Running Back

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    Even though Chris Johnson is far from his old CJ2K days, he's still the cornerstone player for the Tennessee Titans. While this is mostly by default right now, it's still the absolute truth.

    Jake Locker hasn't taken that next step forward needed to be a cornerstone player, so the offense still runs through Johnson. There were times last season when Johnson showed flashes of that big-play ability on a consistent basis.

    With an improved offensive line, Johnson will hopefully get the help he needs to get back to being a dominant running back in this league. 

Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, Quarterback

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    The Washington Redskins haven't had a player as excited or talented as Robert Griffin III in a long time. They also haven't had a cornerstone player like RG3 in an even longer time.

    Griffin, like fellow rookies Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, led the Redskins to the playoffs in his first season in the league. Most Redskins fans want to forget what happened once the playoffs started (hint: it involved a major injury), but the fact that Griffin even got to the playoffs proves just how valuable of a player he is.

    He's the type of cornerstone player that isn't going anywhere for years and years. He's the type of cornerstone player that the Redskins so desperately need.