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2011 NFL Free Agency Primer: The Cornerback Position And The San Francisco 49ers

Yesterday I took a look at the safety position in regards to the upcoming free agency period (confident there will be one). I understand that the CBA issue may cloud things, but I did attempt to help you understand what role such negotiations and possible agreement would have in setting a free agent structure. 

Today, I am going to take a look at the cornerback market in free agency, and what players may or may not be available. Unlike the safety position, it is pretty obvious the 49ers are in desperate need of upgrade at corner. Whether or not they release or restructure Nate Clements, San Francisco still needs to find a viable #1 corner in the market this off-season. 

Luckily for San Francisco, there seem to be a nice amount of options. 

Free Agents In Any System

Nnamdi Asomugha  Oakland Raiders

2010 Stats: 19 Tackles, 17 Solo, 0 INT, 6 Passes Defended

Analysis: By far the best corner in the NFL, Asomugha is the ultimate shutdown player. The fact that he is an unrestricted free agent caught many people by surprise, but a loophole in his contract enabled that to happen. When you see a player get 19 tackles and only 6 passes defended while playing the majority of snaps, something needs to stand out to you. Well, those numbers are so pedestrian because opposing QBs just didn't look his way in 2010. The 49ers need to make a major player for Asomugha when free agency begins, otherwise, they will have me questioning their strategy. Fortunately, he has bay area ties with both Oakland and CAL. Additionally, the 49ers have the money to throw his way.

Probable Destinations: New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers

Chris Carr Baltimore Ravens

2010 Stats: 61 Tackles, 54 Solo, 3 Forced Fumbles, 2 INT, 8 Passes Defended

Analysis: Not a huge fan of Carr's coverage ability, but he proved me wrong to an extent in 2010. I liked the way he played bump and run coverage, getting physical at the line and refusing to play soft coverage. This is something the 49ers desperately need, and Carr would be a great fit. Not a bad fall back option if Asomugha doesn't come to the niners. 

Probable Destinations: Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers. 


Antonio Cromartie New York Jets

2010 Stats: 42 Tackles, 41 Solo, 3 INT, 17 Passes Defended

Analysis: Character issues aside, Cromartie is a pretty solid corner and could be a true #1 if you ask me. He needs to be more consistent at the line and does get turned around on occasion. Cromartie does have the ability to make plays and is great in man-man coverage. I think he will be a good fit, but there will be plenty of competition for his services.

Probable Destinations: Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars


Drayton Florence Buffalo Bills

2010 Stats: 58 Tackles, 49 Solo, 1 Forced Fumble, 3 INT, 1 TD, 15 Passes Defended

Analysis: Florence could be an intriguing fall back option for the 49ers. He has been a pretty solid corner for the most part during his career. However, I do not vision him as a true #1 corner in the NFL, and that is what the 49ers are probably going to be looking for in the FA market. If San Francisco decides to go with second tier talent, Florence could be on the top of their list. 

Probable Destinations: Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions


Carlos Rogers Washington Redskins

2010 Stats: 54 Tackles, 43 Solo, 1 Forced Fumble, 2 INT, 12 Passes Defended

Analysis: Rogers' play has dropped off quite a bit over the last couple of seasons and I am not sure why. He isn't "over the hill" and still have a lot of talent. I am not sure if it is how Washington utilized him, or if he just isn't the same player. That said, you would be looking at a short term and cheaper contract in comparison to the Rogers that was on the open market just a couple of seasons ago. I would be willing to wager a bet on Rogers taking a one year, incentive laden contract in to improve his stock for the 2012 off-season because it isn't incredibly high right now. 

Probable Destinations: Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals


Ike Taylor Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 Stats: 66 Tackles, 52 Solo, 1 Forced Fumble, 2 INT, 11 Passes Defended

Analysis: The talent to be a #1 corner in the NFL, Taylor has never really been consistent. He will be great one season and get burnt repeatedly the next season. Pittsburgh may be ready to move on from Taylor, but some team will come calling. I wouldn't be against the 49ers taking a flyer on Taylor because of his athletic and coverage ability. He is an upgrade over ever corner the 49ers currently have. That must say something huh? 

Probable Destinations: Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers


Fabian Washington Baltimore Ravens

2010 Stats: 31 Tackles, 29 Solo, 8 Passes Defended

Analysis: Injury prone corner that plays too soft in coverage; no thank you. Not really going to add much to this analysis because the 49ers shouldn't even being to look Washington's way when free agency starts unless they are able to get him on the cheap. 

Probable Destinations: Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals


Possible Free Agents Under New 2011 Free Agent Rules: Each player will have accrued enough NFL experience to hit the open market if a new CBA is agreed to. I will indicate tender offers as they relate to each player below. Tender offers mean that their current team offered some sort of restricted free agent tender. This tender means that the team signing each player would have to give up what was tendered.

Johnathan Joseph Cincinnati Bengals

2010 Stats: 42 Tackles, 31 Solo, 3 INT, 1 TD, 8 Passes Defended

Contract Situation: 1st and 3rd round tender, but could end up being an unrestricted free agent as a player with five years NFL experience if a new CBA is reached. 

Analysis: Man I would love to have Joseph on the 49ers next season. He can be the true shutdown corner that we have been looking for. However, signs point to a return to Cincinnati. Unlike some players, Joseph is happy there and would like to return. Finances and the CBA are going to be two major hurdles for the Bengals. If a new CBA is reached that 1st and 3rd round tender will be obsolete and Joseph will be an unrestricted free agent. Cincinnati doesn't like to get into bidding wars, so there does remain a possibility that he tests the open market.

Probable Destinations: Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Brandon Carr Kansas City Chiefs

2010 Stats: 57 Tackles, 46 Solo, 1 INT, 25 Passes Defended

Contract Situation: Was given a 1st round tender and is going to be a restricted free agent regardless because he has accrued only four years NFL experience. 

Analysis: Playing opposite Brandon Flowers, Carr had the opportunity to show what he was made of in 2010. All he did was impress everyone who watched him play. Kansas City did give Carr a 1st round tender, and as someone that hasn't accrued the necessary experience he will be a restricted free agent. This means that any team that signs Carr will have to give Kansas City a 1st round pick. I doubt that he will get much play in the open market because of that massive bounty. Look for Carr to return to Kansas City. You have to ask yourself this: Is Carr worth a 1st round pick? If the answer is yes, the 49ers will make a play for him. However, I doubt the answer would be yes within San Francisco's front office. 

Probable Destinations: Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Richard Marshall Carolina Panthers

2010 Stats: 88 Tackles, 74 Solo, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Sack, 3 INT, 7 Passes Defended

Contract Situation: Original 2nd round tender and is going to be an unrestricted free agent as a player with five years NFL experience if a new CBA is reached. 

Analysis: Marshall has had an up and down career for the Panthers and struggled a great deal in 2010. 88 tackles and only 7 passes defended is a great representation of his struggles. A lot of times I noticed Marshall playing soft coverage and allowing completions underneath. We saw this too much from Nate Clements and I am not willing to add another 30 million dollar free agent that allows those type of plays to occur in front of him. However, Marshall does have the talent to succeed with the right coaching, so he may be worth a flyer if the price is right.

Probable Destinations: Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. 


Chris Houston Detroit Lions

2010 Stats: 56 Tackles, 50 Solo, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 INT, 12 Passes Defended

Contract Situation: Unspecified tender but it is believed to be a 2nd rounder. Regardless, Houston will be an unrestricted free agent if a new CBA is reached. 

Analysis: I really liked the way Houston played for Detroit in 2010, however, is one solid year worth the possible money he will receive in the free agent market? I am not too sold on that idea. Houston will probably be nothing better than a #2 corner on a good team. 

Probable Destinations: Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals. 


Eric Wright Cleveland Browns

2010 Stats: 42 Tackles, 36 Solo, 1 INT, 9 Passes Defended

Contract Situation: Given a 2nd round tender, but will be an unrestricted free agent if a new CBA is reached. 

Analysis: Burned repeatedly in 2010, Erich Wright has shown flashes to be a #1 corner in the NFL. Consistency seems to be his major problem. One year Wright looks like the second coming of Champ Bailey, the next year he looks like another Antonio Langham. I think the 49ers may want to take a flyer on Wright for a reduced salary. Either way, Wright will not be back in Cleveland in 2011 and may be looking for a short term deal to build up his value for 2012.

Probable Destinations: San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals. 


Brent Grimes Atlanta Falcons 

2010 Stats: 87 Tackles, 76 Solo, 5 INT, 23 Passes Defended

Contract Situation: Received a 1st round tender and will be a restricted free agent if a new CBA is reached. 

Analysis; Boy, wouldn't we want Grimes on the 49ers next season? Seriously, he may be one of the best all-around corners in the NFL. In fact, he may actually be the best corner outside of that dude from Oakland (see above). The problem is that Grimes received a 1st round tender and will be a restricted free agent. However, I may be willing to concede a 1st round pick for a talent like his, that of course if we are unable to sign Asomugha. 

Probable Destinations: Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Overview: You may ask why I have the 49ers on the list of destinations for pretty much every player listed above. Well, the answer is pretty simple; we need to upgrade the corner position. Once the 49ers passed up on corners in the 1st and 2nd round of April's draft it became abundantly clear that they were going to look at the free agent market for a major upgrade there. 

The good news is that San Francisco will have a lot of money to spend when free agency begins and there are a lot of nice options are corner in the open market. I really doubt that they are going to go after Brandon Carr or Brent Grimes because it would cost a 1st round pick as compensation; something I doubt San Francisco would really be willing to give up. 

So, you are going to have to look at the unrestricted and possibly unrestricted market for upgrades; there are many options out there. I don't think it is necessary to conduct a poll as many 49er fans would pretty much wet themselves if Nnamdi Asomugha cam across the bay. However, if that is not possible there are still some nice options out there.  Below is my pecking order in terms of 1st tier and 2nd tier options.

1st Tier

1. Nnamdi Asomugha

2. Johnathan Joseph

3. Ike Taylor

4. Antonio Cromartie

2nd Tier

1. Eric Wright

2. Drayton Florence

3. Chris Houston

4. Carlos Rogers

Now, the 49ers could completely shock the world and sign two free agent corners while releasing Nate Clements. The question you have to ask yourself is this; are any of those second tier corners better than Clements? My answer would probably be no. San Francisco would be better off signing a top tier free agent and restructuring Nate Clements contract and position on the field. He would move to the #2 corner position with Shawntae Spencer becoming the nickel corner; that would be the ideal scenario.