Earlier, we looked at the Cowboys current triumvirate of top cornerbacks, Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne. Three years after bringing the latter two aboard, Dallas still has two pretty big question marks behind Scandrick. They also have some young talent that the team has some hopes in. First up would be Sterling Moore, whom the team pilfered from the New England Patriots practice squad at the end of the 2012 season. Moore has just completed his third accrued season and is a Restricted Free Agent; the team will have to decide at what level they will tender him a one-year offer if they do not agree to a long-term deal. Moore, an undrafted free agent, is a developing player who went the entire regular season without relinquishing a touchdown catch while playing over 70% of the defensive snaps.
With 32 teams in the NFL that employ at least three corners as regular rotational players; teams should be pleased with a guy this low on the depth chart constantly appearing in the Top 30 of league rankings. Moore ranked 30th in Cover Snaps per reception allowed, at 10.6 per. Teams didn’t try and pick on him either, as they would if they saw gaping holes in his coverage skills. He ranked 24th in Coverage Snaps per target at 6.5 per. He just missed out on the Top 30, ranking 34th in Passer Rating allowed at 86.6.
Moore is a restricted free agent, and as such, Dallas will likely be giving him a tender in the coming weeks when that window opens. As an undrafted free agent, Dallas might need to go as high as $2.4m for the one-year deal. If another team signed him to an offer sheet, they would have to compensate Dallas with a second round pick in April’s draft. The lower tender amount would net Dallas nothing if Moore signed a sheet with another team. For more on the Cowboys four RFA’s read up here. In a league where corners are at a premium, there isn’t much reason for Dallas to not find out where Moore’s ceiling reaches. He has given up his fair share of catches and that seems to be his willing trade-off for making sure that he is never beat deep. However he also led the team in pass deflections with 8. No touchdowns allowed, and a team-leading 8 pass deflections for a fourth corner normally indicates a young player a team wants to continue with.
Tyler Patmon is a young player who former Assistant Head Coach Monte Kiffin likened to a young Ronde Barber in training camp last offseason. He might be the one true Tampa 2 cornerback in the Cowboys stable. He will get his opportunity to shine in camp the way he did in his two interception pre-season performance from 2014.
Dallas will hope that both Moore (if resigned) and Patmon grow over the offseason to being viable starter and rotational talents, respectively. They would be foolish to assume this will be the case though. With three-years of evidence who Brandon Carr is and three years of experience who Morris Claiborne isn’t, Dallas has to look to strengthen the position from the outside. At this point, Dallas should be hesitant to spend as they did in 2012, when none of the league’s top corners were available but they gave top corner money to Carr. That’s likely what is going to happen to the likes of Byron Maxwell, Brandon Flowers and Tramon Williams. However, there are more than a few interesting names further down the list Dallas might want to kick the tires on.
If Dallas decides to test the free agent market for corners, it could be with this kind of player in mind. These are older veterans who will likely get you through a few years as younger players on your roster mature into bigger roles. These should be one or two year rentals with no or low guaranteed money that you can easily walk away from after a year, or even if you are surprised by young players during the initial training camp.
A player who might be a perfect fit under this scenario? Charles “Peanut” Tillman. Tillman has spent his entire 12 year career in Chicago and as such, is highly familiar with current Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Marinelli’s D coincided with Tillman’s best seasons, 2010-2012, when Tillman forced an astounding 28 turnovers. That’s not a misprint. Tillman intercepted 11 throws and jarred the ball loose 17 times over three seasons with the aptly titled, “Peanut Punch”. Marinelli preaches the turnover and Tillman is the quintessential walking example that turnovers are far from random occurences. Tillman went to two Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro in 2012 when he forced 10 fumbles. He is also a stand-up locker room guy, which is high on head coach Jason Garrett’s wish list.
Tillman was lost for the year early in 2014 after suffering a torn triceps injury, and that is what will cause the team pause. It was the second consecutive year he suffered a tear that cut his season short. This would preclude any team from offering much guarantee money, but Tillman has stated he wants a ring, and Dallas’ situation offers as good an opportunity as any other in the league; especially if he was on board. A two-year deal with just a $1 million signing bonus and some solid, not-likely-to-be-earned incentives (markers not achieved the previous season) will allow Tillman to fit neatly under the 2015 cap.
Here’s a look at other free agents who could be potential Bridge Players at corner for Dallas.
|Player||2014 Team||Age (Opening Day)||2014 PFF Coverage Grade||Notes|
|Brandon Flowers||Chargers||29||+7.1||Flowers had a decent season after signing just a $3m one-year deal with the Chargers. He was released in KC due to salary and not being a fit in their new press-heavy scheme of 2013.|
|Mike Jenkins||Bucs||30||-0.2||Jenkins played in just one game in '14, tearing his pectoral in the season opener. The former Cowboys 1st rd pick didn't leave on the best terms, but would be a bridge player to a potential draft pick.|
|Tramon Williams||Packers||32||+2.7||Williams was torched in his final season in Green Bay to the tune of 10 TDs, but he makes plays on the ball.|
|Antonio Cromartie||Cardinals||32||0.0||Per PFF, Cromartie folded down the stretch of the season after putting up a rather impressive campaign, -7.8 over last two weeks and a -1.5 in the wild card game.|
|Peanut Tillman||Bears||34||+1.2||Tillman is obviously a Marinelli guy and has been an All Pro under his guidance. Age and injury are the only questions here, talent base makes him a winning combination for where Dallas is right now.|
|Rashean Mathis||Lions||35||+8.8||The ageless wonder just keeps on keepin' on. Veteran savvy that makes plays and doesn't give them up. How much sand is left in the hourglass though after 12 years?|
|Terence Newman||Bengals||36||-4.5||Newman saw his share of targets, with 8 games with at least 8 throws his way. Still, the former Cowboys first rounder only allowed a 79.8 rating and just 2 scores on the season.|
These are the kinds of players you plan on having in your system for at least four years of productivity. If you acquire this sort of player, you will be paying a sizeable signing bonus, even if it is not at the level of one of the top tier free agents on the market. Guaranteed money will be involved and as such, a certain guarantee of snaps over the course of the season as well. If Dallas were to go this route, this would be a potential Top 3 guy, and would indicate either a willingness to move on from Carr this season, or a lack of short and long term faith in Claiborne’s availability and general ability.
Chris Culliver, former 49er, might be the best bet out of the bunch. He’s not as highly heralded as some of the other names on the market but he’s been a quality player for some time. Remember, the edict for signing higher-priced veterans is guys that are coming off of their rookie deals only, and ones that have performed at a quality level for multiple years. Culliver has, played well, but he falls short of the edict of having major responsibility over multiple years. This was his first as an established number one guy.
Culliver’s 2013 season was wiped out due to an ACL injury suffered in that year’s training camp, but he proved to be fully recovered in 2014. He played 95% of the team’s snaps in every game but Week 1 and Week 14, where he got popped on his reconstructed knee. He returned to full duty the following week.
Culliver is a former third-round pick out of South Carolina and has 8 career interceptions. His catch percentages has been phenomenal in his last three complete seasons, allowing just 58.8 his rookie year, 52.6 in 2012 and just 50.7 in 2014. His passer rating allowed in 2014 was just 66.5 last season. He ranked 15th in the league in combined tackling efficiency, something that is very important for a player in the Tampa 2 defense; plays must be kept in front. He ranked sixth in the entire league in coverage snaps per reception at 13.3.
If Dallas chooses to open their wallets for a young corner this offseason, Chris Culliver might just be their best bet. Here’s a look at other players that are going into their second-contract:
|Player||2014 Team||Age (Opening Day)||2014 PFF Coverage Grade||Notes|
|Buster Skrine||Browns||26||-5.5||Skrine's NFL career started out with a target on his back, but he's improved each season.|
|Davon House||Packers||26||+1.7||House has been a role player with great size that is looking to make the leap to starter and many around the league feel he is ready. He's been sitting behind Williams in GB. Won't command high money, but will command some serious coin.|
|Byron Maxwell||Seahawks||27||+0.8||Maxwell is the star of the position this offseason, playing opposite Richard Sherman for a year. Rose to prominence when taking over for Brandon Browner down the stretch of their Super Bowl run. 2nd Corner syndrome?|
|Kareem Jackson||Texans||27||+9.6||Possible Texans might franchise tag him; moves around the field|
|Chris Culliver||49ers||27||+8.2||After missing 2013 with a torn ACL, Culliver returned in fine form in '14, recording 4 picks and 6 breakups. Allowed just 66.5 paser rating.|
|Perrish Cox||49ers||28||-0.6||Cox finally became a starter in 2014 and hauled in 5 interceptions and 8 breakups, while only allowing a 78.0 passer rating in 2014.|
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