Although there aren’t more than a handful of sure things among the free-agent cornerbacks, there are 12 cornerbacks ranked in the top 100 because of the value of the position in a pass-happy league.
Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans: There are other free-agent cornerbacks that are a bit more accomplished than Jackson, but he is younger, offering more potential for a four- or five-year contract. In five seasons with the Texans, he has averaged almost 50 tackles and 10 passes defensed and has 10 interceptions, including three last season. He played in 13 games, missing three with a knee injury, but he was one of the better cover cornerbacks in 2014.
Antonio Cromartie, Arizona Cardinals: After nine years in the NFL, Cromartie is a free agent once again, after only one season with the Arizona Cardinals. He will turn 31 in April, which could limit him to a short-term contract, but he had a solid 49-tackle, three-interception performance in 2014, which is about on par with his career averages. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he has the size to handle the NFL’s bigger receivers and has been doing that for nearly a decade now. A return to the New York Jets to reunite with Todd Bowles is one of the leading outside options.
Brandon Flowers, San Diego Chargers: After seven seasons in the NFL, Flowers’ production has been on the fringe of Pro Bowl-worthy. He returned to that sort of production last year in his first season with the San Diego Chargers, generating 52 tackles, 10 passes defensed and three interceptions, numbers more representative of his overall career than his final season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Byron Maxwell, Seattle Seahawks: At 6-foot-1, Maxwell is more like Cromartie than Flowers (5-9) or Jackson (5-10), and since stepping into the starting lineup with the Seattle Seahawks has been a reliable corner. He started 12 of 13 games played last year and had a career-high 39 tackles, 12 passes defensed and two interceptions (he had four interceptions in 2013 when starting only five games for the Seahawks). He’ll turn 27 before free agency, but he appears to be a player on the rise, although he and the Seahawks haven’t been able to come to terms about what that should mean in financial terms.
Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers: After nine seasons with the Packers, Williams will be 32 during the 2015 season and isn’t as feared in coverage as he once was. He may be able to squeeze out a two- or three-contract, but it likely won’t include a lot of long-term, high-priced guarantees. Last year he started all 16 games, as he has each of the past three seasons, and continued to be productive – 70 tackles, 13 passes defensed and three interceptions. The issue for him is not what he has done, but what can be expected in the next couple years.
Perrish Cox, San Francisco 49ers: With five seasons in the NFL, mostly with the 49ers, Cox offers a nice blend of experience and youth, as he turned 28 in January. Last year was his first as a full-time starter and he produced 53 tackles, an impressive 17 passes defensed and five interceptions. He’s likely due the richest contract of his career and becomes a free agent at the right time.
Chris Culliver, San Francisco 49ers: Culliver (6-0, 199) is similar in size to his 2014 teammate Cox, but Culliver is two years younger. But with only three years in the league, he is a restricted free agent. He has 20 starts to his credit, including 14 last year, and produced 45 tackles, 14 passes defensed and four interceptions.
Buster Skrine, Cleveland Browns: In his second season as a full-time starter with the Browns, Skrine continued to build on his development. He had 67 tackles, a healthy 18 passes defensed and four interceptions. He has the flexibility to play outside or inside and received high reviews from the Browns coaching staff. In four seasons, he has 37 starts and hasn’t missed a game, and at 26 years old during the 2015 season he should receive strong interest in the free-agent market.
Tarell Brown, Oakland Raiders: Brown spent his first seven seasons with the 49ers before switching bayside teams to the Raiders in 2014, when he had 47 tackles and four passes defensed in his fourth season as a starter. At 30 years old, his best days are likely behind him, but he could still provide a starting presence for his next team.
Jimmy Wilson, Miami Dolphins: In his first year as a starter, he had 58 tackles but only two passes defensed and one interception. He has started only 21 games over four years with the Dolphins. At worst, he could offer good depth for a team and the potential to start.
Patrick Robinson, New Orleans Saints: In five seasons with the Saints, he has been an on-again, off-again starter, so interested teams will have to figure out if he is a full-time starter or just a nickel back. Last year, he started six games, had 39 tackles, 11 passes defensed and two interceptions.