The New York Jets will have a plethora of holes to fill this free agency period and cornerback is certainly one of them. Here is a list of five potential targets for the team in early March.
With around $100 million in cap space to spend this offseason, the New York Jets will be looking to use their financial flexibility to fill some of the needs on their roster.
And boy do they have a lot of needs to fill.
While some positions of need such as the offensive line and edge rusher have been discussed at length, other deficient areas have been somewhat overshadowed to this point. One of those positions is cornerback.
The Jets addressed the position last season with the signing of the highly-touted Trumaine Johnson but his 2018 play left much to be desired. The team will have to do a better job of filling the need this free agency period with the position being as thin as it’s been in years.
Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, and Darryl Roberts will all be free agents and it’s unlikely the team brings more than one of them back, if any. The Jets could once again look to free agency to solve their secondary woes and the following five players are some of the options they should consider.
Let’s take a look at the top five free agent targets for the Jets at the cornerback position.
5. Brian Poole
With the aforementioned Skrine set to hit free agency, the Jets could be in the market for a nickel cornerback to replace the aging veteran. Brian Poole could be the younger, perhaps cheaper alternative to target.
Poole has been a steady presence with the Atlanta Falcons serving as the team’s top slot cornerback for the better part of three years. Since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2016, Poole has missed just one game and has accumulated four interceptions, three of which came last season.
The Florida product excels at blitzing out of the nickel position which is something new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can make great use of. Williams is a well-known blitz aficionado utilizing his chess pieces on defense in a variety of different blitz packages.
Poole has struggled at times with his coverage and his tackling leaves much to be desired. But he is a younger and cheaper replacement for Skrine who has dealt with his fair share of penalty concerns while with the Jets, among other issues.
The Falcons opted not to place a restricted free agent tender on him making the underrated Poole an unrestricted free agent. While Atlanta has expressed interest in retaining him, it’s likely he joins a new team in 2019 as it’s clear the Falcons don’t value him nearly as much as other teams will.
Perhaps one of those other teams will be the Jets who will land their new nickel cornerback in free agency.
Next: 4. Bradley Roby
4. Bradley Roby
While the Jets will undoubtedly be interested in another Denver Broncos free agent — Matt Paradis your new Jets uniform is awaiting you on One Jets Drive — the team could still look to go after another member of the AFC West team.
Cornerback Bradley Roby is set to hit free agency after five up-and-down seasons in the Mile High City. Roby was originally a first-round pick of the Broncos in 2014 and while he has remained a fixture of their secondary since then, it’s safe to say he hasn’t fully lived up to expectations.
The Ohio State product spent his first four seasons with the team playing primarily out of the slot and even posted his highest Pro Football Focus grade in 2017 playing the nickel cornerback role. But after the team moved veteran corner Aqib Talib in the 2018 offseason, Roby was moved into a starting role this past season.
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Roby struggled in 2018 posting his worst PFF grade to date, a lowly 59.8. But at just 26-years-old and with plenty of significant playing time to his name, Roby will likely have a decent market in free agency.
Whether the Jets would shift him back into the nickel role or continue to develop him on the outside, Roby could be an interesting option in free agency if they can’t get one of their top targets. At the very least, he’d likely be an improvement over Skrine in the slot and be on par with, if not better, than Claiborne on the boundary.
Perhaps he’s not the most appealing option, but Roby could be an improvement for the team at a major position of need.
Next: 3. Pierre Desir
3. Pierre Desir
Pierre Desir isn’t a name that many are too familiar with, and that’s because he was playing on an Indianapolis Colts defense in 2018 that didn’t have too many recognizable faces. That said, the Colts defense was sneakily one of better units in the league last season.
Part of this was due to the breakout play of Desir who started a career-high 12 games and deflected a career-best eight passes to go along with an interception. Desir also scored a very favorable Pro Football Focus grade ranking out as the No. 18 cornerback in the NFL with a 77.7 grade.
The Lindenwood product bounced around quite a bit early in his career originally being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He later had short stints with both the Chargers and Seahawks before being claimed off waivers by the Colts in September of 2017.
It didn’t take long for Desir, who was initially buried on the depth chart, to earn substantial playing time and his 2018 breakout season should have him garner quite the market. But there are concerns with the former Cleveland Browns draft choice.
Some feel that Desir could be a product of the Colts Cover 2-heavy scheme that tends to hold fewer responsibilities for cornerbacks. We saw former Colt Rashaan Melvin struggle to gain playing time in Oakland after a fantastic breakout season with the Colts in 2017.
But it’s ultimately unfair to gauge the future success of one player off the past failures of another. Which means that Desir could provide great value for the Jets who will be in the market for a high-upside defensive back coming off a big year.
Next: 2. Bryce Callahan
2. Bryce Callahan
In terms of nickel cornerbacks, none are more appealing in this year’s crop of free agents than Bryce Callahan. The current Chicago Bears cornerback has quickly developed into one of the better slot corners in the league after four seasons in the Windy City.
Originally entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015, Callahan has spent the last three years quietly being a very important part of the Bears defense. He received more praise this past season after being graded as the No. 7 overall cornerback by Pro Football Focus, receiving a stellar grade of 81.4.
The Bears defense was one of the top units in the NFL this season and while much of the credit goes to bigger name players such as Kyle Fuller or Khalil Mack, Callahan deserves some acclaim too for how well he played. With the Bears having to make numerous decisions regarding in-house free agents — including fellow defensive back Adrian Amos — Callahan might actually hit the open market despite his proven pedigree.
Given his proven success and age (he’s just 27-years-old), expect the Jets to be all over him if he becomes a free agent. Since he’s primarily a nickel cornerback, his market shouldn’t be as high as some of the others on this list either.
Next: 1. Ronald Darby
1. Ronald Darby
With four solid seasons under his belt and at just 25-years of age, Ronald Darby is set to be the top cornerback in this year’s free agent class. As such, his price tag will likely be quite high, but it may just be worth it.
Darby entered the league as a second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2015. After two starting-caliber seasons in Western New York, Darby was shipped to Philadelphia where he’s spent the last two seasons with the Eagles.
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In his four seasons in the NFL, Darby has never graded out worse than 68.3 by Pro Football Focus with his best year coming in 2017 when he posted a 78.3 overall grade. Unfortunately, Darby’s time in Philadelphia has been marred by injuries.
A dislocated ankle in 2017 kept the Florida State product out for half the season and a torn ACL suffered late in 2018 forced him to miss seven regular season games and two postseason matchups. Darby will be recovering from the ACL tear and hopes to be ready in time for the 2019 preseason but the injury could hurt his free agent value.
Still, you aren’t going to find a better option at the boundary corner position with Darby’s past production and age. His market may be high, and there will be those scared off by last season’s Trumaine Johnson signing, but Darby is a younger (and likely slightly cheaper) option that could work out in the Jets favor.
Expect teams to be all over Darby this offseason and the Jets would be wise to at least explore his market.