The New Orleans Saints have not had a storied history at the cornerback position. Sure, they've had some good ones. Dave Waymer, Toi Cook, Tracy Porter, Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis are a few that come to mind. As good as those players sometimes were, they will never be mistaken as anybody who belongs in the conversation with great defensive backs.
The Saints pass defense has hovered around the bottom of the league over four of the last five seasons. Much of the reason for this has been the performance of the teams cornerbacks. New Orleans was ravaged by injuries at the position in 2016. An incredible FIVE Saint cornerbacks were on injured reserve most or all of the season. And another, Delvin Breaux, was injured for the first half of the season and clearly wasn't the same player when he was able to suit up.
Over the last month, I have been previewing the Saints free agent and off season priorities by position. Today, I will be continuing my series of free agency previews by profiling the Saints cornerback position. We will look at prominent players currently under contract, the team's free agents at the position, possible free agent targets, and how highly New Orleans should prioritize the position this off season.
(NOTE: Previous pieces in this series can be viewed on my twitter account @bobbyr2613)
Cornerbacks Under Contract
Delvin Breaux (age 27)
Breaux is the Saints best defensive back, and among their best defensive players. After being one of the few bright spots on a Saints defense that set records for futility in 2015, it was expected that Breaux would be mentioned among the NFL's best corners by the end of this past season. Unfortunately, Breaux injured his leg in the season opener and missed the first half of the season. Upon his return, it was clear that he was just not the same caliber of player. Although he will be fully recovered, New Orleans will need to see a continued progression from Breaux next season. Breaux will be a restricted free agent in 2018, and the Saints expect him to be a player that they can continue to build their defense around.
P.J. Williams (age 23)
Williams, a 3rd round draft pick from Florida St in 2015, was expected to take over the cornerback spot opposite Breaux last year. Instead, Williams suffered a frightening concussion and neck injury in the seasons second game against the Giants. After missing his rookie year with a torn hamstring, Williams has played in only 5 quarters in two professional seasons. By most accounts, he has all the tools necessary to become a good defensive back, but he is obviously an unproven player.
Damian Swann (age 24)
Swann recieved some unexpected starts as a rookie in 2015. The 5th round pick from Georgia showed some potential, but also alot of the inconsistencies that you would expect from a rookie defensive back. Swann's rookie season ended early with a series of concussions, problems which perhaps extended into the 2016 preseason. Some speculated that Swann's roster spot was even in jeopardy due to his uneven play, but more concussion issues caused him to be put on season ending injured reserve. Swann's status is far from a certainty as the Saints shape up their roster.
Ken Crawley (age 24)
Crawley was one of a trio of undrafted college free agents that caught the attention of Saints coaches in last summers training camp. This Colorado product saw extensive action in 15 games, even logging 5 starts. Crawley definitely had some struggles in coverage, but also exhibited skills that showed why the coaches chose to keep him on the active roster.
De'Vante Harris (age 23)
Harris was another one of the Saints undrafted free agents. The former Texas A&M star showed nice enough ball skills to earn him the Saints nickel back spot entering into the season. As the year progressed, Harris' struggles limited his defensive snaps, even with the Saints injury woes at the position. He will be expected to improve on the progress he showed in training camp for a chance at making the squad.
Jimmy Pruitt (age 24)
The third of the Saints trio of undrafted college free agents at corner never saw a down of regular season action, having been placed on injured reserve early in training camp. Pruitt actually showed enough ability early in camp that he was projected by some to make the roster over either Crawley or Harris. The 6'0 200lb Pruitt also played safety in college at San Jose St. His versatility is something to keep an eye on as he tries to earn a roster spot in 2017.
Free Agent Corners
Sterling Moore (age 27)
Moore was signed off the street because of all the injuries in the secondary. The 7yr pro ended up becoming the team's number 1 cornerback by default. While his statistics weren't overly impressive, Moore actually did a solid job against receivers like Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, and Mike Evans. Sterling Moore is an unrestricted free agent that won't likely command an extraordinarily high salary on the market, so look for the Saints to push to retain him.
B.W. Webb (age 26)
Like Moore, Webb was signed into the season as a result of injuries to the other corners. Playing for his fourth team in 4 years, Webb played fairly well at times, even starting seven games. In reality, Webb is only a number four cornerback at best. Webb is a restricted free agent. Expect the Saints to explore other options, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Webb return to provide depth.
Kyle Wilson (age 29)
Wilson is a former first round pick by the Jets from Boise St who was largely considered a draft bust by the NY fanbase. Signed as a free agent by New Orleans in 2015, where he started 4 games with one interception. After missing last season with injury, Wilson is highly unlikely to be back in a Saints uniform.
Free Agent Possibilities
A.J. Bouye (age 25, Texans)
Bouye is almost everyone's number 1 cornerback heading into free agency. He did have a terrific year on a very good Houston defense, and the Texans may not even let him hit the open market. If he does, expect a bidding war. Bouye will be one of the most sought after free agents at any position, and expectations would likely be at 11 million or more per year. Bouye comes with a bit of a "buyer beware warning" in that 2016 was the first time he has been a regular starter in his four year career. Still, he has developed into a terrific cover cornerback well worth the investment if the Saints get the opportunity to get him.
Trumaine Johnson (age 27, Rams)
Johnson is the other top-level cornerback scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 9. Johnson has been a very good cover corner over his five year career, and has shown solid playmaking abilities as well. Like Bouye, Johnson will command highest market value; if Los Angeles does not apply a franchise tag on him.
Kayvon Webster (age 25, Broncos)
Webster would be a nice under the radar signing. A solid player for a terrific secondary in Denver; Webster would also give the Saints very good special teams play. Playing behind Chris Harris Jr, Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby did not give Webster many opportunities in coverage. A change of scenery might prompt him to shine.
Morris Claiborne (age 26, Cowboys)
Dallas has a handful of big contracts to address this off season, so there is a chance that this former 6th overall pick from LSU will be allowed to become an unrestricted free agent. The problem is that Claiborne has yet to play like a high draft choice. He has been highly inconsistent throughout his career, at best. The fact that Claiborne is entering his prime makes him a High risk/High reward signing.
Dre' Kirkpatrick (age 27, Bengals)
Kirkpatrick is another high draft pick who has not lived up to his lofty billing. There is a good chance that Cincinnati will let him test the market, but the Saints would be wise to look past the inconsistent former Alabama product.
Logan Ryan (age 25, Patriots)
Ryan has been a good corner in a New England defense that often puts it's cornerbacks in a position to make plays. A decent athletic who has played well in big games, Ryan will probably not come as expensive as some of the other names on the market. The question to ask yourself is this: How often does a Patriots player leave them in free agency and thrives in a new environment?
The Saints have some good potential at this position. Breaux looks like he's on the cusp of a top level cornerback, and Williams showed terrific potential coming out of college. However, the fact that New Orleans has had such a low ranked defense proves that the team needs playmakers at every level of this unit. There are some very good cornerbacks in this upcoming draft. As many as six are projected to go in the first round or top part of the second. Free agency will likely give away the Saints draft strategy here. If New Orleans lands one of the top names we've outlined above, then a cornerback can likely be scratched off the needs of high draft priorities. The Saints could instead choose to stand pat, or sign a young lesser regarded player such as Webster. If this happens, we could very well see New Orleans target one of the top cornerbacks in this spring's draft.
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Mid-High
Next, we will preview the Saints off season priorities for the safety position.