It is no secret that the Tennessee Titans need help at the cornerback position.
The biggest question isn’t whether the Titans will address the cornerback position, but how will they address it. They likely will draft at least one cornerback, perhaps more, as they grabbed late-round choices LeShaun Sims and Kalan Reed last year when the position wasn’t regarded as a big of a need as it is this time around.
But what about free agency, and the pool of veteran cornerbacks who will be available there? Last season the Titans dipped their toe into the free agent waters, though not very deep. While they made big moves in the off-season to address the offensive line (center Ben Jones), running back (trade for DeMarco Murray) and wide receiver (a bargain gem in Rishard Matthews), the Titans went mostly to the bargain rack in the secondary, bringing in corners Brice McCain, Valentino Blake and safety Rashad Johnson on short-term deals. This time around, however, GM Jon Robinson and Coach Mike Mularkey might be persuaded to take a longer look at some younger veterans, who could help fix the problem long-term. Grabbing journeyman corners, including those who are rapidly approaching age 30, does not seem like the prudent move. So let’s look at some of the better options available.
A.J. Bouye, Texans, age 25: A former undrafted free agent, Bouye became the Texans’ best cornerback this season, and one they probably would like to keep. Robinson showed last off-season that he didn’t mind weakening a division opponent (Jones came over from the Texans) to strengthen his own club. Many times, big free agent money can ruin a player, but Bouye, having to come into the league the hard way, might be the type who can avoid that pitfall.
Logan Ryan, Patriots, age 25: Ryan is a former third-round pick, who has shown a knack for finding the football with 13 interceptions in his four seasons with the Pats. Robinson should know him well since he was in New England in the front office when the Patriots called his name on draft day in 2013.
Stephon Gilmore, Bills, age 26: Beauty is apparently in the eye of the beholder when it comes to Gilmore, who had a solid season in his fifth year in Buffalo, doing enough to earn a Pro Bowl bid with five interceptions. Critics say Gilmore’s game has some inconsistency, but one thing is sure – after a big year in 2016, whoever signs Gilmore is likely going to have to pony up a decent amount of cash.
Trumaine Johnson, Rams, age 27: Johnson was franchised by the Rams in 2016, and played the year on a $13 million-plus one-year deal. Johnson had just one interception this season, but teams didn’t test him nearly as much after he had seven picks in 2015. The Rams thought enough of Johnson to put the tag on him, choosing to keep Johnson over another talent cornerback in Janoris Jenkins, who had a solid year for the Giants after leaving as a free agent. Johnson is another player whom the Titans woul have to open the wallet and spend big on if they want him.
Morris Claiborne, Cowboys, age 26: Claiborne was thought to be the next great LSU defensive back, following in the footsteps of Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu among others, when the Cowboys made him a top-five pick in 2012. Injuries have been his biggest enemy, as Claiborne has not played in more than 11 games since his rookie year. He has the talent, but the injury history may be a buyer beware type situation.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Bengals, age 27: Perhaps, like Claiborne, he has hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft status, but Kirkpatrick has been a more than adequate NFL cornerback since the Bengals chose him out of Alabama in 2012. There is the possibility he could re-sign in Cincinnati, but if he gets to the open market, someone will reward him.
Marcus Cooper, Cardinals, age 26: Cooper has bounced around, being drafted by the 49ers, claimed off waivers by the Chiefs, and then traded to the Cardinals last year. Still, he intercepted four passes in 2016 and could be a strong upgrade as he played at a high level last season while coming in late and having to learn a new system.