NFL free agent preview: The DBs

We continue our look at free agency with a look at the watered-down defensive backs. The top three corners are off the market, as is the No. 1 safety. There is depth at safety, though, should the Packers decide to challenge Atari Bigby. Plus, we have links to the other stories in our series as we provide the most thorough Packers-related look at free agency around.

Packer Report continues its position-by-position preview of free agency with the defensive backs. The deadline to name franchise players was Feb. 19, and free agency begins on Friday.

The Packers' needs:

Assuming Al Harris (34) and Charles Woodson (32) continue to defy age, the Packers should be fine at cornerback. Tramon Williams is a solid third corner, and the team likes youngsters Will Blackmon and Patrick Lee.

At safety, the Packers might be looking if they have doubts about their own restricted free agent, Atari Bigby, or just want to add a challenger to the mix. Communication breakdowns were a plague last season, and the safeties have to be smart to play Dom Capers' defense.

Big-ticket items:

— Cornerback: None, with the Raiders opening the vault for All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha, Houston franchising Dunta Robinson and the Colts' re-signing Kelvin Hayden.

— Safety: With the Rams using the franchise tag on big-play machine Oshiomogho Atogwe, the best of the rest is Tampa Bay's Jermaine Phillips. He's a fierce run defender; so fierce that he's broken both forearms, injuries that limited him to 11 games last season. He has nine interceptions over the past three seasons with 20 passes defensed. The Bucs are about a billion dollars under the cap, and they're working for a deal.

Pricey, but a good deal:

— Cornerback: With the top three corners off the market, St. Louis' Ronald Bartell might be the best of the rest. He's 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and had three interceptions and 19 pass breakups in 2008. ... The Packers are running the Steelers' defense, so why not Bryant McFadden? He has only 18 career starts, including eight (with two interceptions) in 2008. At 6 foot, he's got the size the Packers like. ... Jabari Greer (5-foot-11) was shoved aside for first-round pick Leodis McKelvin in Buffalo. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns. The Bills offered him $5 million per season; he wants at least $7 million. All three are young players who are on the rise.

— Safeties: Because of its free agent linebackers, Baltimore probably won't be able to afford the 5-foot-8 Jim Leonhard, who burst onto the scene last season and played a starring role in the playoffs. He can return punts, too. ... The Eagles' Brian Dawkins just completed his 13th season but remains a hard-hitting, emotional leader. He prefers to remain in Philadelphia. ... Cleveland's Sean Jones missed the first four games while recovering from knee surgery but still intercepted four passes, giving him 14 in his three seasons as a starter.

Bargain shopping:

— Cornerback: Tampa Bay's Phillip Buchanon is primarily a zone cornerback, which, even with the defensive change, probably doesn't suit the Packers' style. ... Domonique Foxworth (5-foot-11) has started 28 of a possible 64 games in his career. Last year, in 10 starts with Atlanta, he had one interception and broke up 11 passes. ... A bunch of veterans have been released, headlined by Baltimore's Chris McAlister, a 10-year pro on the downside of his career. Others are gambling Dre' Bly (10 years), ex-Lion Leigh Bodden (six years) and Patrick Surtain (11 years). ... Andre Goodman, who will turn 31 before the season, picked off five passes in 16 starts with Miami. ... The Rams' Fakhir Brown has eight interceptions in three seasons with the Rams (37 starts).

— Safeties: Darren Sharper, 33, has 54 career interceptions but just one last season for the Vikings, who aren't expected to retain him. ... The Falcons are parting ways with Lawyer Milloy, 33, a superb run defender and defensive ringleader, and the Bears aren't going to make a play at the oft-injured Mike Brown. ... The Patriots' Rodney Harrison can't stay healthy anymore, but even after 15 seasons, he's a difference-maker in the secondary. Harrison, the only player in NFL history with 30 sacks and 30 interceptions, hasn't started more than 11 games since 2004. ... When the Ravens' Dawan Landry went down with a spinal cord concussion, Leonhard stepped in. Landry, an all-rookie selection in 2006, is a restricted free agent. ... Speedy Chiefs center fielder Jarrad Page also is restricted. ... James Sanders was a leader for the Patriots, and he has experience orchestrating their 3-4. He's only 25 but has just five interceptions in four seasons. ... Miami is trying to re-sign Yeremiah Bell, a top tackler with horrible hands. The Dolphins already gave safety Gibril Wilson a five-year deal after he was a big-time free agent bust for Oakland last year. ... Productive Jaguars safety Gerald Sensabaugh (four interceptions, 12 pass breakups in 2008) was arrested this month for driving with a suspended license, and authorities found three guns in his car. ... The Texans are trying to re-sign Eugene Wilson, a disappointing second-round pick by New England in 2003. ... James Butler, an undrafted free agent in 2005, picked off three passes as a starter for the Giants.

Clearance rack:

— Cornerback: Adam Jones — "Pacman," as law enforcement agencies and strip clubs know him — is available, if you want to gamble on a talented but troubled player. ... Tennessee's Chris Carr and Oakland's Justin Miller are OK corners but great kick returners. ... The Cardinals' Ralph Brown was a leader as the nickel corner last year, while teammate Eric Green fell out of favor late in the year. ... Ricky Manning's stunning playoff run in helping the Panthers reach Super Bowl XXXVIII apparently was a fluke. ... Deltha O'Neal has 34 career interceptions but allowed the most touchdowns in the league in 2008.

— Safeties: Houston's Nick Ferguson (10th season) and Denver's Marlon McCree (eighth) are aging role players. ... Tank Williams signed with New England last season but had a season-ending knee injury. ... Tampa Bay's Will Allen hasn't picked off a pass since 2005. ... Former Packer Marquand Manuel (14 starts for Denver in 2008; will be 30 by camp), Will Demps (no INTs in 13 starts for Houston in 2007 and 2008; 29) and Dwight Smith (no INTs for Detroit; will be 31 by camp) are street free agents.

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Editor's note:

For a preview of the quarterbacks, click here

For a preview of the running backs, click here

For a preview of the fullbacks, click here

For a preview of the tight ends, click here

For a preview of the wide receivers, click here

For a preview of the offensive line, click here

For a preview of the defensive line, click here

For a preview of the linebackers, click here

For a preview of the defensive backs, click here

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.


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