grimes2

In a passing league where passing is king and everyone passes because passing is the best, three positions have generally taken on an inflated market value: quarterbacks, defensive ends, and cornerbacks. So the thrower of the passes, the interceptor of the passes, and those who collapse the passer.

For cornerbacks, the truly massive cash only lands in the hands of the few who occupy the very top tier. Think Darrelle Revis, who’s getting paid $16 million annually, or Richard Sherman in the very near future. But the others a level below still get paid nicely. Consider the not so distant spring of 2012 when the Cowboys paid $10 million annually to acquire the services of Brandon Carr, and the Rams paid Cortland Finnegan the same. The latter is likely to be cut soon, but over half of Finnegan’s contract ($27 million) is fully guaranteed.

Avoiding that sort of cost and commitment with Brent Grimes, widely viewed as the top cornerback available had he hit the market, was an aim for the Dolphins and new general manager Thomas Hickey. Achievement unlocked.

Earlier this morning Grimes was signed to a four-year contract worth $32 million, with $16 million guaranteed. My arithmetic indicates that’s $8 million annually, which is a sufficient buffer from the likes of Carr and Finnegan two years ago, and most importantly it keeps the cost to retain a corner of Grimes’ vintage down and in an area that’s tolerable. As good and as irreplaceable as he is on the Dolphins’ roster, Grimes will turn 31 before next season. That’s not too rusty/crusty, but it’s certainly at the back half of a cornerback’s prime years.

And about those prime years for Grimes: they’ve been pretty fine when his body isn’t ripping. After missing all but one game in the 2012 season with an ACL tear, Grimes returned to his shutdown form. While recording 17 passes defensed Grimes had four interceptions, and most impressively allowed an opposing passer rating of only 66.3 on balls thrown in his direction. That’s according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked Grimes as the league’s second best cornerback in 2013.

The front-end loading of the guaranteed money could essentially make this a two-year deal in reality, with the Dolphins able to move on from Grimes after two seasons at no cost. That’s a crucial security measure when dealing with an older-ish corner (he’ll be 34 at the end of the contract if he stays on that long), and although he showed no ill-effects last year, Grimes is still only one season removed from an ACL tear.

The discussion of age leads to a broader and more lucrative conversation about how this contract will effect the rest of the cornerback market. If Grimes can get $8 million annually and $16 million guaranteed after one bounce-back year, we can use that as an entry point while estimating how much the remaining top cornerbacks will cost.

Aqib Talib is 28 years old, but after starting strong this past season with four interceptions over the first four weeks and then shutting down Jimmy Graham, he faded while struggling with a hip injury. Still, the impact of his bruising will be mild. If he becomes available, Talib should receive a similar contract to Grimes’, and maybe slightly more.

There there’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who should be worth at least $9 million at his youthful age of 27. And at 25 years old, Alterrean Verner will garner an even larger cash mountain ($10 million? $11 million?) after his bust out season with 28 passes defensed and five interceptions.