The free agency period for the 2014 season begins at 4:00pm later today.
Our final positional previews focuses on the men that are the last line of defense in the defensive backs.
Here is a list of select defensive backs who are slated to become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year. These players can re-sign with their current teams at any time and can already begin negotiating with other teams.
Antoine Bethea/S/Colts (5’11, 206lbs) – More than just a center-field type safety, Bethea has been a dependable cover safety for the Colts, while also possessing a knack for stopping the run with great tackling ability. Bethea was fourth among defensive backs in combined tackles with 110, and has put up consistent numbers like that for Indianapolis the past eight seasons. He’s spent his entire career with the Colts, racking 806 combined tackles, and 14 total interceptions. (UPDATE 3/11: Antoine Bethea has agreed to terms with the San Francisco 49ers)
Jairus Byrd/S/Bills (5’10, 203lbs) – The three-time Pro Bowl safety has become one of the NFL’s premier playmakers in the secondary during his career, intercepting quarterbacks 22 times, and tied for NFL lead in picks his rookie season with nine in 2009. He’s a safety who excels in coverage, and has tremendous ball-hawking skills. In five NFL seasons, Byrd has made 356 total tackles, and forced 11 fumbles. Since he entered the league, Byrd has more interceptions and forced fumbles than any other safety. Byrd is also a three time All-Pro. (UPDATE 3/11: Jairus Byrd has signed a six-year deal with the New Orleans Saints)
Antonio Cromartie/CB/Jets (6’2, 210lbs) – If you want a corner with elite step-for-step speed, Cromartie fits that profile. After being cut by the New York Jets a few days ago, Cromartie jumps into the free agent market and could be a good fit for a team that runs a man-to-man based scheme. He can run with almost anyone with his top-flight speed and has been consistently healthy, missing just one game in his entire eight-year career. He had three interceptions last season.
Nolan Carroll/CB/Dolphins (6’1, 205lbs) – A special teams ace that found himself thrust into a starting role due to multiple injuries to the Dolphins secondary the past two seasons, Carroll did an admirable job opposite of Fins starter Brent Grimes this past year. Carroll possess great speed and was a bit of a playmaker as well for the Dolphins this season, intercepting quarterbacks three times, and making two sacks off of corner blitzes. He was one of the few defensive backs for Miami that played in all 16 games last season, and started 12 contests. (UPDATE 3/13: Nolan Carroll has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.)
Chris Clemons/S/Dolphins (6’1, 214lbs) – A leader in the Dolphins secondary last season, Clemons was the calming influence on a secondary that have a lot of revolving parts due to injuries. He’s a safety that most of the time plays center field and becomes the last line of defense, compared to the more playmaking type of player in the Fins other safety Reshad Jones. Last season, Clemons only allowed two touchdowns, and just over 50% completion percentage when the ball was thrown at him. He also grabbed one interception last season, and made 93 combined tackles. He’s started every game the past two seasons for Miami.
Vontae Davis/CB/Colts (5’11, 204lbs) – The former Dolphins cornerback has acclimated well to Indianapolis since being traded in August of 2012 for a second round pick, as Davis has shown flashes of the talent that made him the Fins first round pick in 2009. He’s a corner much more suited to man coverage, possessing good speed and thrives in press coverage. Davis started every single game for the Colts in 2013, making 46 tackles, defending 12 passes and recording one interception. (UPDATE 3/11: Vontae Davis has re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts)
Malcolm Jenkins/S/Saints (6’0, 204lbs) – Jenkins is more of a cover first safety, most of the time serving as the last line of defense in Rob Ryan’s aggressive defense down in New Orleans. Through five seasons in the NFL, the former first-round pick out of Ohio State has already started 63 games for Saints. Last season, Jenkins made a combined 66 tackles, forced two fumbles, and intercepted opposing quarterbacks twice. (UPDATE 3/11: Malcolm Jenkins has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.)
Aqib Talib/CB/Patriots (6’1, 205lbs) – No game evidenced how important Talib was to New England than last year’s AFC Championship, as the Pats secondary was carved up as soon as he went down with an injury early on. Talib, despite his slips up during his career (which included of the field issues and getting caught by the injury bug), possesses the talent to be a top level corner with great instincts and cover skills in the NFL. In 13 games for New England in 2013, Talib had four interceptions, and 14 passes defended. (UPDATE 3/11: Aqib Talib has signed with the Denver Broncos.)
Alterraun Verner/CB/Titans (5’10, 187lbs) – It was a huge breakout season for Verner last year, as the four-year corner out of UCLA jumped off the page in his second year as a full time starter for the Tennessee Titans. Verner was second in the NFL in passes defensed with 22, and intercepted quarterbacks five times last year (including taking one back for a TD). Verner held opposing quarterbacks to a 55.8 passer rating, good for 4th best in the NFL. He’s the definition of a cover corner that can blanket receivers. (UPDATE 3/11: Alterraun Verner has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.)
T.J. Ward/S/Browns (5’10, 200lbs) – Molded like a safety from the old-school NFL, T.J. Ward is a player who is an enforcer in the secondary. Quite possibly the hardest hitting in safety in the league, Ward is one of the best tacklers in the NFL, racking up 112 tackles, 3rd most by a defensive back last season. He had two interceptions last season, including taking one pick back 44 yards for a touchdown. The four-year veteran out of Oregon played in and started all 16 games for Cleveland last season. (UPDATE 3/11: T.J. Ward has signed with the Denver Broncos.)
Other marquee defensive backs that are free agents include: Champ Bailey (CB/Broncos), Ryan Clark (S/Steelers), Jabari Greer (CB/Saints), James Ihedigbo (S/Ravens), Kendrick Lewis (S/Chiefs), Dimitri Patterson (CB/Dolphins), Carlos Rogers (CB/49ers), Asante Samuel (CB/Falcons), Walter Thurmond (CB/Seahawks),
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