Free Agent Preview: Cornerback
Despite the occasional struggles of Charles Tillman, the Bears are looking for a nickel back and not necessarily someone that will replace him in the starting lineup. With that in mind, the team could be priced out of the position in free agency.
New York Jets CB Ty Law tied for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions. He battled some leg injuries that forced him to pull himself from games, although he said his surgically repaired foot no longer is a problem. Because he is owed an $11 million option bonus in March, it's likely he won't be back. He evidently ruffled some feathers among his teammates in New York.
Buffalo Bills CB Nate Clements is the top free-agent corner on the market. It will be difficult for the Bills to meet his goal of becoming the NFL's highest paid player at his position. Buffalo could slap the franchise tag on him and buy some time. Clements, who played every game like it was an audition for 32 teams, finished with 125 tackles and two interceptions, giving him 20 for his young career. But he was inconsistent and beaten on the deep ball too frequently for someone hoping for a $10 million to $12 million signing bonus.
Oakland Raiders CB Charles Woodson started five games before suffering a broken fibula. He almost certainly will be allowed to test the market, as tagging him would cost more than $12 million in salary. Woodson remains an injury-prone player who hasn't achieved the stardom expected but can be a solid, all-around defensive player when healthy.
Chicago Bears CB Jerry Azumah was reduced to the nickel role in 2005. A chronic hip problem appears to have taken a step away from his game as a cornerback and a kick returner. Still he could start for a lot of teams and will draw interest on the open market.
New York Giants CB Will Allen had an erratic season, missing six sure interceptions (he wound up with zero), and he didn't cover all that well. He'll probably end up with another team in free agency.
San Diego Chargers CB Jamar Fletcher beat out Sammy Davis, a former first-round pick, for the nickel role. The Chargers would like to keep him in San Diego, but are not offering enough and Fletcher believes he can make more on the market.
Carolina Panthers CB Ricky Manning Jr. had a stellar season as a nickel back and will likely earn a big contract for another team that offers him a chance to be an every down player. Manning had been a starter before the arrival of Ken Lucas this past off-season.
Pittsburgh Steelers CB Deshea Townsend is one of several free agents the Super Bowl champions have on the roster. He's considered a priority for the Steelers, but '05 No. 2 pick Bryant McFadden could push him to nickel back.
Jacksonville Jaguars CB Terry Cousin is an adequate nickel back. He spent three seasons (1997-99) with the Bears to start his career.
Minnesota Vikings CB Brian Williams replaced Fred Smoot as a starter when Smoot broke his collarbone in early November against Detroit. Although Smoot was able to return after missing four games, he could not regain his starting spot. Williams will be an unrestricted free agent this off-season and figures to draw interest on the market.
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