1. Rahim Moore
Rahim Moore struggled as a rookie, but he had a fantastic 2012 season (the gaffe in the playoff loss to Baltimore aside), grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked safety. He still looked like one of the league’s better young safeties going into his 3rd year in the league in 2013, but he was only a league average starting safety that year before going down for the season with a frightening, rare injury that almost cost him his leg and his life. Moore returned in 2014, but was once again only an average starter. It’s obviously great that Moore has been able to resume his life and his career, but he goes to the open market as only a league average starter. He’ll make a good amount of money in a weak safety market though.
2. Da’Norris Searcy
Searcy was a 4th round pick by the Bills in 2011 NFL Draft. He played just 511 snaps in his first 2 seasons in 2011 and 2012, but he made 20 starts over the past 2 seasons as a hybrid safety/linebacker. He’s never played more than 753 snaps in a season, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked safety in 2014 (on 666 snaps), so someone will give him starter’s money to be a traditional starting safety for them.
3. Dwight Lowery
Dwight Lowery has always been a solid starting safety when healthy. The Falcons signed Lowery cheap last off-season and there was a reason he was available so cheap, even though he graded out above average in every season from 2008-2012, including 18th among safeties in 2012. Lowery missed 20 games in 2012-2013 combined and he hadn’t played all 16 games since his rookie year in 2008. Lowery proved to be a smart signing by the Falcons, as he graded out above average again and, more important, made all 16 starts. He’s worth a multi-year deal on the open market, but his injury history can’t be ignored.
4. Dawan Landry
Landry was Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked safety in 2014, but I have skepticism over his ability to keep that up. For one thing, he’s going into his age 33 season. He also graded out below average in 4 of 5 seasons from 2009-2013 before last season, though he did rank 4th in 2010 and he’s played in all 96 games over the last 6 seasons. He should still be a starter next season, but, like Harris, he shouldn’t be guaranteed anything beyond 2015 on his next deal.
5. Mike Adams
Mike Adams has been in the league for 11 years, since 2004, but last season was arguably the best of his career, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked safety and made the first Pro-Bowl of his career. This is the same guy whose career looked like it could have been over until the Colts signed him in June of last off-season. He’s going into his age 34 season and anyone who signs him this off-season can’t expect him to repeat the best season of his career again, but he was a solid starter in 2011, 2012, and 2013, grading out above average in 2011 and 2012 and only slightly below average in 2013. He should still be considered a starting caliber safety for 2015. There’s reportedly a lot of mutual interest between Adams and the Colts in a reunion.
6. Stevie Brown
Stevie Brown, a 2010 7th round pick, played just 151 snaps combined in 2010 and 2011, but had a breakout year in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 27th ranked safety. Unfortunately for him, he tore his ACL and missed his entire contract year in 2013 and was forced to settle for a one year deal back with the Giants to rehab his value. His 2014 season was a mixed bag. He graded out about average and played all 16 games, but he made just 8 starts and played just 559 snaps as he was benched for a stretch in the middle of the season. He shouldn’t get a ton of interest on the open market, as he’s still a one year wonder.
7. Tyvon Branch
Branch had the Raiders’ top cap number for 2015 at 9.657 million. The Raiders only saved 2.986 million on the cap immediately by cutting him, but doing so got them out of salaries of 5.5 million in 2015 and 6.5 million in 2016 and 2017 and he’ll completely off of their cap by 2016. Branch was once a solid safety, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked safety in 2011 and their 30th ranked safety in 2012, but he’s missed all but 4 games with injuries over the past two seasons combined and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be the same player again.
8. Kendrick Lewis
Lewis was a mere 5th round pick in 2010, but he still started for 4 years with the Chiefs before coming to Houston, making 51 starts from 2010-2013. Lewis graded out above average in his first 2 seasons in the league, but below average in 2012 and 2013, the final 2 years of his rookie contract in Kansas City, which led to a depressed market for him last off-season, forcing him to settle for a cheap, one-year deal in Houston. With the Texans, he had a bounce back year, grading out above average. Now he hits free agency again with 67 career starts in 5 seasons with a solid history of success as a starter, including a solid contract year. He should get more money and years than he did last off-season, but he could still be a cheap starting option for a team that needs one.
9. Marcus Gilchrist
Marcus Gilchrist was a 2nd round pick of the Chargers’ in 2011. He struggled in his first 2 seasons in the league at cornerback, but was moved to safety in 2013 and ended up making all 16 starts and grading out 20th at his position. Gilchrist graded out below average in 2014, but he wasn’t terrible, he made all 16 starts again, and I still expect him to get starting caliber money this off-season. He won’t break anyone’s bank though.