1. Darrelle Revis
Darrelle Revis is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, grading out 3rd in 2008, 2nd in 2009, 18th in 2010, 1st in 2011, 1st in 2013, and 4th in 2014, with a torn ACL in 2012 that didn’t slow his career down in between. However, Revis was owed 20 million in 2015, including a 12.5 million dollar bonus that was scheduled to be paid out on the first day of free agency. The Patriots never really intended to pay him that when they signed him last off-season and they released him on the day before that bonus was due. They’ll try to keep him long-term as a free agent, but they’ll have competition from the Jets, Bills, Chiefs and others.
2. Byron Maxwell
The “other” member of the Legion of Boom, Maxwell broke into the starting lineup in 2013 in the middle of the 2011 6th round pick’s 3rd season in the NFL. Maxwell played 494 snaps in 2013, made 5 starts in place of a suspended Brandon Browner, and graded out 16th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. The Seahawks let Browner walk the following off-season and Maxwell became a full-time starter in 2015, making 13 starts (missing 3 with injury). However, he was only a league average starter when on the field, according to Pro Football Focus. Widely considered the top cornerback on the open market, Maxwell is expected to get more than 10+ million dollars annually, which would be a massive overpay. He’s still inexperienced. He hasn’t played as well as people think. And he could easily struggle outside of Seattle’s system and supporting cast.
3. Tramon Williams
Williams is going into his age 32 season so he won’t command a huge annual salary or much if any guaranteed money beyond 2015, but he should still be a solid starter next season. He’s not the player he was in 2009, when he graded out 9th, or 2010, when he graded out 8th, but he’s graded out above average in 6 straight seasons and made 95 of 96 starts over that time period. Something around 3 years, 17 million, with 7 million guaranteed would be appropriate for him. Seattle has been rumored to be interested in him, as they have a cornerback need and GM John Schneider was part of the team that originally brought Williams to Green Bay. A return to Green Bay is also an option.
4. Chris Culliver
Chris Culliver was just a 3rd round pick of the 49ers in 2011, but he’s quietly one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. He had a significant role from the word go in 2011, playing 425 snaps and then 691 in 2012, grading out above average in both seasons, including 29th at his position in 2012. He’s graded out above average in all 3 seasons he’s been healthy, missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL. However, he bounced back in a big way from that torn ACL in 2014 in his first full season as a starter, making 14 starts and grading out 14th at his position. On top of that, that 2013 ACL tear is really the only issue he’s had with injuries, missing a combined 2 games in his other 3 seasons as a pro. The 49ers have cap problems so they’ll have to hope that the rest of the league doesn’t realize he how good he is so that they can re-sign him cheaply.
5. Antonio Cromartie
Antonio Cromartie made 63 of 64 starts from 2009-2012 with the Jets and Chargers and graded out above average in all 4 seasons, maxing out at 18th in 2012. Cromartie started all 16 games for the Jets again in 2013, but graded out 102nd out of 110 eligible and ended up being a cap casualty. He was forced to settle for a 1-year, prove it deal with the Cardinals and the common opinion is that he did prove it and deserves a big contract this off-season. That’s only half true though as, while Cromartie was dominant to start the season, he was horrible in the 2nd half of the season and ended up grading out below average overall. Going into his age 31 season, Cromartie is simply no longer capable of consistently showing top cornerback ability and shouldn’t be paid more than an average starter. A strong candidate to be overpaid this off-season, it’s no secret that Cromartie would like to go back to the Jets and reunite with Todd Bowles. Bowles is now the Head Coach of the Jets after doing a fantastic job as defensive coordinator with the Cardinals in 2013 and 2014.
6. Cary Williams
Cary Williams has made all 32 starts for the Eagles at cornerback over the last 2 seasons, but he’s graded out below average in each of them. Even though he wasn’t that bad in 2014 (49th out of 108 eligible), the Eagles might cut him anyway. His salary for 2015 is 6.5 million non-guaranteed and they can save that entire amount on the cap by letting him go. There are better cornerbacks to be had for that price.
7. Rashean Mathis
Rashean Mathis looked done after 2012, as he graded out below average in 2012, missed 11 games with injury in 2011 and 2012 combined, and was going into his age 33 season. He didn’t get signed until mid-August in 2013, but he turned back the clock in Detroit over the past 2 seasons, making 29 starts and grading out 26th in 2013 and 12th in 2014. He’s a free agent going into his age 35 season this off-season so he won’t command a large salary, but the Lions would love to bring him back as a stopgap in their secondary and he should draw interest from other cornerback needy teams as well.
8. Davon House
House, a 2011 4th round pick, has been buried on the depth chart in Green Bay over the past 4 seasons, playing just 1201 defensive snaps combined over that time period, all over the past 3 seasons. However, he’s flashed whenever he’s been on the field, grading out either above average or just slightly below average in each of the last 3 seasons. House reportedly is looking for 7 million dollars annually on the open market. I don’t expect him to get that, even on a weak cornerback market, but I do expect him to be starting somewhere next year to be compensated accordingly.
9. Patrick Robinson
Patrick Robinson has essentially been a bust as a 2010 1st round pick, but it hasn’t been for lack of talent. He’s just missed 22 games in 5 seasons and had serious trouble consistently staying healthy and on the field. His best season came in 2011, when he played 15 games (7 starts) and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked cornerback, but whoever signs him shouldn’t expect that kind of play from him. In 2014, he played 624 snaps in 14 games, starting 6 of them, and grading out about average. That’s more par for the course from him. He’ll be looking at smaller multi-year deals to be someone’s #2 or #3 cornerback. Considering the Saints’ desperate need at the cornerback position and that Robinson was their best cornerback in 2014, a reunion could make sense.
10. Perrish Cox
Perrish Cox was a 5th round pick by the Broncos in 2010 and graded out above average on 787 snaps as a rookie, but was let go after one year after being arrested on multiple sexual assault charges. Cox was out of the league entirely in 2011 thanks to those charges coupled with a history of off-the-field issues from his collegiate days at Oklahoma State. However, early in 2012, he was found not guilty and the 49ers gave him another chance. He didn’t play much in either 2012 or 2013, playing 168 snaps in 2012 and 81 snaps in 2013 (11 of which were actually with the Seahawks), but injuries opened up a starting role for him back with the 49ers in 2014 and he didn’t look back. Cox led the 49ers with 965 snaps played, made 14 starts, and graded out above average. Cox clearly has talent, showing it in both of his stints as a starter, but the off-the-field stuff can’t be ignored. Still, he’ll come cheap for a starting cornerback this off-season so he definitely wouldn’t be a bad signing for any cornerback needy team and that includes the 49ers.