Hey, Saints fans! We're carrying on with a look at players hitting free agency, by position of need, on March 9th. In case you missed it, please check out our break down of defensive line as well as linebacker UFAs.
With the re-signing of Kyle Wilson, a depth chart guy, the Saints will be fielding predominantly Delvin Breaux, Keenan Lewis, Damian Swann, P.J. Williams (and others) in 2016. Sans Brandon Browner, the CB corps is no longer the biggest problem group on the team. That said, added talent is most welcome, and three of the five CBs cited above are coming off injurious 2015 campaigns (which Williams missed entirely). Will the Saints do what they do and make a splash acquiring a new face for this group?
Let's jump right in and have a look at PFF's five highest-rated cornerbacks from 2015 who are hitting free agency.
Sean Smith (6'3 218): Smith was chosen out of Utah by the Miami Dolphins in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL draft. Smith signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 and appeared in 45 games over the past 3 seasons. With KC, Smith tallied 142 combined tackles, 41 passes defended (~14/season), and 5 interceptions. Through his career-to-date, Smith has 81 passes defended and 10 interceptions. Despite a productive 3 years in KC, PFF's 12th ranked CB is hitting free agency in just a couple of days and will have no shortage of suitors. With his size, he's regarded as an excellent press corner (who does so without racking up heaps of holding calls) who is highly effective in man coverage and does a great job pinning his receiver along the sideline. The bidding war for his services will definitely be heated, and despite Spotrac's $8M projected annual tender, don't be at all surprised to see his floor be at or above Byron Maxwell's $10.5M average from 2014. Don't hold your breath here, Saints fans. We've a better chance signing Sasquatch.
Adam "Pacman" Jones (5'10 180): A10 year veteran, Pacman will be 33 in September. Jones was selected 6th overall out of West Virginia in the 2005 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans. Since joining the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010, Jones appeared in 75/96 games (78%) and in 2015, through 14 games played, had 62 combined tackles, 12 passes defended (both highest career per game averages) and 3 interceptions. PFF grades Jones 15th overall for eligible CBs in 2015 and it's worth noting he was a Pro Bowler this past season, and a First Team All-Pro selection in 2014 (he's never been graded with a below-average grade by PFF since they started collecting data). Though he's still playing at a high level, he has a reputation as somewhat of a dirty player and has a fairly extensive arrest record dating back to his Tennessee days. Sean Payton evidently would prefer a wholesome locker room, so I don't see Jones being a good culture fit in New Orleans. Coming off a 3 year/$5.3M deal, and factoring in his age, my guess is that he's probably getting a contract in the range of 2 years/$10M. Of note, there's the possibility a player with Pacman's abilities could project well as a safety and play beyond even 2 more seasons. This positively impacts his utility and could drive up his value.
Casey Hayward (5'11 192): Hayward is somewhat of a curious case; a 26 year old CB for the Green Bay Packers who has only started 20 of the 51 games in which he's appeared (39%). What is truly curious about him, though, is that he's the third Packers CB to hit free agency since 2014 (along with Tramon Williams (Cleveland) and Davon House (Jacksonville)) - A team noted for keeping and developing talent in-house. All three of these guys are top-50 CBs according to PFF for 2015, and Hayward is #16. Hayward was selected by the Packers out of Vanderbilt in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL draft. Playing opposite Sam Shields (PFF's #25) in 2015, Hayward helped buoy the NFL's 6th ranking passing defense. These past two seasons, Hayward accounted for 107 combined tackles, 14 passes defended, and 3 interceptions. Though Spotrac hasn't calculated Hayward's market value, former teammate House's 4 years/$24.5M deal is a somewhat realistic benchmark. Given his youth, this CBS market, and that he's demonstrated quality play through his rookie contract, Hayward may command something in the realm of 4 years/$28M for his services.
Janoris Jenkins (5'10 198): Jenkins was selected out of North Alabama by the St. Louis Rams in the early second round of the 2012 NFL draft. Through his rookie deal, Jenkins missed only 3 games and has posted consistent stats. For 2015, Jenkins had a combined 64 tackles, 15 passes defended, 3 interceptions, and a forced fumble. PFF ranked Jenkins the 26th best CB in the league last year (a spot below Shields) and, had the Rams not been troubled with deciding between him and Trumaine Johnson, he likely wouldn't even appear on this list. While he has given up some big plays through his first 4 years in the league, Jenkins has shown steady improvement as a cover corner. Spotrac doesn't currently have a market value projection for Jenkins, though I suspect he's getting $20-24M over 4 years, depending on the bidder and their level of desperation.
Prince Amukamara (6'0 207): Patrick Robinson (#30) actually ranks higher than Amukamara (#32), but I refuse to humor any scenario where PRob(lem) is a Saints player again. Call it scheme fit or whatever, he simply didn't work out in New Orleans. Back to Prince. The 26 year old Amukamara was chosen 19th overall by the New York Giants out of Nebraska in the 2011 NFL draft. Prince only played in 19 games over the past two seasons, in which he had 109 combined tackles, 22 passes defended, 4 interceptions, and a FF. He's actually only ever played one season in its entirety. He had a fractured foot his rookie year, a torn bicep that ended his season in 2014, and missed 5 games in 2015 due to a partial pectoral tear. Despite these clear red flags, Amukamara is an above average corner (even on the league's worst defense last season) and, perhaps owing to those risks, can likely be had for under $20M/4 years.
That's all for now, CSCers. Anyone on this list worth a look? Anyone I'm missing? I always like sleeper picks, so sound off below with your feedback! We've only got a day before free agency commences so, prior to, I'll conclude this series with the two other primary position groups of relevance to the Saints - WRs and guards.