Starting cornerbacks are one of the hottest commodities in the NFL. There's few things quite as terrifying as putting an inexperienced question mark back there in your secondary, as we have seen time and time again. For all of the question marks surrounding San Francisco's secondary and the potential issues it faces with departing free agents, the 2014 NFL Draft and what not, we've overlooked the simple fact that, at the end of the day, the 49ers have starters.
Carlos Rogers, Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are all starting-caliber cornerbacks. Donte Whitner is still a free agency question mark obviously, but I doubt the 49ers lose him at this point. Rogers is not ideal, Brock could go either way and Culliver is coming off an injury, but the 49ers could be in a lot worse of a situation.
It helps that this secondary has performed above its pay grade in each of the last two or three seasons, of course.
We've heard a lot of talk about the 49ers potentially drafting a cornerback high, and we've heard a lot of talk about Tarell Brown and his potential departure in free agency. I think what's been overlooked to this point is the fact that, if all of these things happen, there are going to be a lot of bodies in the secondary. With 2.5 starting spots up for grabs (let's call the nickel spot "middle ground," OK?), it's going to be crowded and there will be a lot of competition.
That's still the case even if Rogers is released due to his non-friendly cap hit in 2014. This is all a big part of the reason why I believe Brown won't return to the 49ers this season.
San Francisco seems primed to let the market set value for Brown once the new league year begins. That's always been this regime's policy -- if a player is asking for a lot, let that player see what he can get on the open market. That's what they did for Dashon Goldson, and he had a particularly poor year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who paid him a boatload of cash to draw penalties and whiff in coverage.
Now, I believe Brown is worth a great deal and would like to see him back on the 49ers. I don't think it's a Goldson-esque situation in the slightest. But I do believe the market will set a higher value for Brown than the 49ers could and should be willing to pay. Brown isn't in the top echelon of cornerbacks, but he's starting caliber with flashes of brilliance.
As it happens, those are the kinds of cornerbacks that teams need the most right now. There are multiple teams in need of multiple starting-caliber cornerbacks, and those teams have a lot of cap space to burn. Conversely, there are multiple big-name cornerbacks on the open market but not that many teams with a ton of cap space who are in need of that specific kind of player.
So anyway ... about that market that will set a value for Brown that is higher than the 49ers would be able to pay. He wasn't a free agent just yet, but Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields was set to hit the open market, but the Packers were able to get him signed to an extension on Saturday. That extension will likely play a big role in how cornerbacks are paid this offseason.
Hopefully, none of them or any of their agents actually saw what the Packers did. What the Packers did was screw all the other teams over, because Shields is getting paid far, far, far above what he's shown on the field to this point. Shields is a decent corner and all, but being one of the better players in a horrible secondary should not equate to almost $10 million per season.
I'd argue that Brown has been the better and more consistent cornerback than Shields, though he's certainly a bit more under the radar. Will a team give Brown $10 million a year? Certainly not, but it's going to make it tougher for Brown to potentially give the 49ers a discount, and it's going to let the rest of the league know that -- for whatever reason (possibly the increased salary cap) -- they have to open up their respective checkbooks.
For this reason, I think the 49ers would actually stand a better chance at getting one of the bigger-named free agent cornerbacks than Brown, who they will have a set value for and who will exceed said value, in my opinion. And in addition to all of this: Brown knows the 49ers' cornerback position will be crowded in 2014. I'm not suggesting he lacks confidence, but there are multiple teams with cash who can guarantee him a starting spot.
Call me crazy, but if I were Brown and I cared about the things above, San Francisco would hardly be an option for 2014.