On 6/13/14, Brandon Flowers was cut by the Chiefs, who wanted free up room to extend Alex Smith. Perhaps the Niners might kick the tires on a Nnamdi-like incentive laden deal?
Hey everyone, I haven't posted to the NN community in forever, but I've followed this site faithfully since the good old days when Kory Sheets Was Our Future, and I really appreciate how much I've been able to learn from a well-informed, well-run, and largely respectful community of Niner fans expressing opinions that transcend mere blatant homerism. So I figured I would attempt to give back and offer my own insights on all things 49er-related. As always, this is an opinion, which means I will do my best to not hit you over the head with obvious moves that Trent Baalke HAS to make RIGHT NOW if he wants the team to win more than one game next year. In turn, I ask that you point out anything you might perceive as incorrect or based on flawed logic/information, because in the end, I just want to continue to learn from the rest of you and make sure I am as well-informed of a fan as possible. Let's get right to it!
As it stands, the 49ers cornerbacks can comfortably be deemed the position group with the most question marks. Ed Donatell is one of the most respected secondary coaches in the NFL, such that the Niners blocked an attempt by the Saints to interview him for their defensive coordinator job. But Donatell is not a miracle worker. Coaching can only improve personnel so much, and the inexperience of this group is worrying. Tramaine Brock showed some good things last year, but Chris Culliver has been out a long time, and the rest of the candidates at outside corner are all castaways or low drafted projects on minimum deals. Jimmie Ward appears to have the inside track on winning the nickel corner position, while the dime should feature good competition in training camp.
The 49ers have expressed previous interest in acquiring an corner to deal with the split ends and flankers that line up outside of the slot. They were notably interested in acquiring Darrelle Revis, but perhaps decided against it for salary cap reasons. Cheaper options like Walter Thurmond III and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were snapped up by the New York Giants, and highly rated draft prospects Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard may have proved too prohibitive to acquire due to the draft capital needed to move up in the 1st round. But as we know, Trent Baalke loves shopping in the bargain bins of the NFL, and the upcoming June 1 designation deadline creates an interesting transaction market for the Niner front office to explore. For the 49ers' purposes, Brandon Flowers is by far the most intriguing of these potential post-June cuts.
Flowers is entering the 4th year of his 6 year, $49 million contract, and was selected to his first Pro Bowl last year. Pro Bowl voters generally take time to recognize excellence in players, so Flowers' selection was more based on the strength of his play between 2010 and 2012, during which he was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. His 2013 season was marred by injury, and he played 50 percent of his snaps in the slot, a position he does not excel in. As a result of all of these factors coming together in a bad way, Flowers was awarded a -9.8 coverage grade by Pro Football Focus, and the Chiefs have been looking to trade him since the NFL draft.
I personally believe that Flowers has not fallen off a cliff all of a sudden entering his age-28 season after three years shutting down some of the NFL's top recievers. After all, he was deemed the 2nd best cornerback in the NFL by PFF in 2010, giving up just one touchdown that season. This year, however, he has been slowed by a bothersome knee, an obvious issue for shadow corners expected to keep up with elite recievers. In addition, he was clearly not a good fit for the Chiefs' press-man scheme, measuring in at a shade under 5' 10" and 187 pounds. So with all of these issues, why would a team ever trade for him? A closer look at the tape would indicate why he is primed for a huge bounceback season in the right scheme.
Flowers thrives on the outside, playing bigger than his size and showing good anticipation to disrupt receivers and take them out of their rhythm. He is also one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the game, as he is able to deliver jarring hits to separate receivers from the ball and is a reliable presence in outside run support. Flowers is an excellent playmaker, gaining an average of 20.2 yards on his 17 interceptions since entering the league, returning three of those all the way to the house. He takes good angles and adjusts very well to the ball, as six of those interceptions were over-the-shoulder catches. His 4.49 speed and 36 inch vertical allow him to make a lot of plays, and the incredible 14 bench press reps he put up at the combine definitely show up on tape when you watch some of the punishing hits he is able to deliver. And prior to this year, he has had absolutely no injury concerns, despite his height. According to NFL.com's draft profile of him in 2011, he compares favorably to Ronde Barber, a comparison that has held up well in Flowers' six years in the league.
Flowers should not be considered prohibitive in cost, either. His cap hit this year is $10.5 million this year, but a trade or release would mean the Chiefs would have to absorb $7 million of that as dead money. The Chiefs are likely looking at a mid-to-late round pick as compensation, but with just 4 days until the June 1st deadline, they will have to act quickly to get any compensation. As recently as last season, Flowers was being mentioned in the same breath as Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, and Joe Haden. I believe Flowers can beat out Chris Culliver for the boundary corner spot across from Tramaine Brock and reach those lofty heights once more with the best front-seven he's ever played with in front of him, and Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea securing the deep zone behind him. Brandon Flowers is definitely an undervalued asset of the ilk that Baalke and friends so love to acquire, and his addition would solidify the defense to a point where I could comfortably say we have no holes at all. With an entire offseason to rest up and heal from his injuries, a rejuvenated Flowers playing in our secondary may well be the key to finally wrapping up the Quest for Six.