As we continue our adventure around the league and a look at the various offseason blueprints, we land in a place where two of the top 10 free agent cornerbacks are currently employed. Or at least they are for, oh, about six days.
Green Bay Packers
Estimated cap room: $35.1 million
Draft slot: 21st
End game: When a team is fielding a secondary that ranked 24th against the pass last year (247.2 passing yards allowed per game) and said team’s best corner is now leaving, that is a bad thing (hashtag analysis). Sam Shields is a ripe and chipper 26-year-old who intercepted four passes in 2013, and even more impressively he allowed a passer rating of just 72.7 on throws in his direction.
In a league where defending the pass is a pretty big deal, Shields will be a popular individual on March 11, which will quickly erase whatever hope the Packers have of re-signing him if it gets to that point. The thick line they’ve drawn with Shields is reportedly at less than $6 million, while he’s seeking at least $7 million. The funds are there for Ted Thompson to bridge that gap, but with B.J. Raji also departing and depth needed on the defensive line too, those salary cap sand lines become a little more rigid when your quarterback is making over $18 million annually.
If it’s a cheaper-ish Shields replacement option Thompson seeks, then he could poach Charles Tillman from his division rival for a more affordable veteran figure as he enters his age 33 season. Of those two primary needs — cornerback and defensive end — the one that isn’t addressed sufficiently next week will wait until early May. Alternatively, Thompson could be in prime draft real estate in the first round to select this year’s top tight end Eric Ebron to fill the void left by Jermichael Finley.
Estimated cap room: $35 million
Draft slot: 8th
End game: Last year the draft needs in Minnesota were widespread and terrifying, which happens when you win only five games. So with already two first-round picks after the Percy Harvin trade they grabbed another one from New England, and selected Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Already from that group they have a Pro Bowl appearance courtesy of Patterson, who’s oozing with potential as he sets a high ceiling for himself and then continually breaks through it (Patterson was used minimally as a receiver for much of the season, but he finished with 1,393 return yards, including a 109-yard touchdown).
Now there’s just the weee problem of a quarterback, and finding one who’s remotely competent. That doesn’t describe draft bust Christian Ponder, and both Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman are about to populate the always shallow quarterback free agency pool. That’s where the difficulty begins for the Vikings and their quarterback quandary, and it extends to the draft. Oh sure, maybe they could chase Michael Vick, though he’s best used as a serviceable and high risk bridge.
But a bridge to what? There are too many other sucky and QB-needy teams ahead of the Vikes and their No. 8 draft slot, and the top three at the position (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Teddy Bridgewater in whatever order you please) could easily be gobbled up. If that scenario becomes reality, the waiting game will begin, with GM Rick Spielman possibly targeting Derek Carr if he drops into the second round, or trading back into the first and snatching him with a late opening-night pick. Carr completed 69 percent of his passes during his senior season at Fresno State, with 50 touchdowns, only eight interceptions, and a passer rating of 156.3.
Beyond Carr, A.J. McCarron and Jimmy Garoppolo will also be fine second-round options.
Estimated cap room: $8.46 million
Draft slot: 14th
End game: The aforementioned Tillman is almost surely gone given the little cap room the Bears have to work with, and their multiple and leaking needs elsewhere defensively. Up front the need is actually bleeding, and profusely after the Bears gave up 161.4 rushing yards per game and 5.3 per carry, which is absolutely absurd.
The impending departure of defensive tackle Henry Melton — who’s efficient against the run and is a year removed from six sacks — makes that run stopping blood gush further, along with Corey Wootton likely leaving too after an injury discount following offseason hip surgery. To review then, the Bears were gashed on the ground primarily because of injuries this past season, and now after those injured players have healed they will promptly depart. Oh and look, rental Jay Ratliff needs some fresh contract cash too, though he’ll come cheap.
With little room to address those holes through free agency, it’s clear what the Bears’ draft priority will be: a large tackle human. Whether it’s Timmy Jernigan or Aaron Donald, they’ll will take the best tackle available, though HaHa Clinton-Dix could be tempting as a much needed upgrade at safety too.
If there’s a way to just draft an entire defense in the first round, that would be the best option.
Estimated cap room: $11.7 million
Draft slot: 10th
End game: Having a great (or at least potentially great, or sometimes great) quarterback-wide receiver duo is the golden gift every team chases. But once they mature and face contract time, there’s the problem of paying them to retain their services. Then ultimately there’s also another far more stressing problem of salary cap calamity, which is where the Lions currently reside.
Sure, the above figure available is still a decent chunk of change considering the commitments to Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford. But also consider how much larger that number could be if they didn’t have $22.5 million against the cap committed to Ndamukong Suh this year, which is such a massive number it could sink several countries. That’s why completing an extension with Suh to lower his cap number remains the top priority for general manager Martin Mayhew, an essential measure which will allow him to more comfortably pursue either a cornerback or safety after Louis Delmas and Rashean Mathis were released.
In May the need for a corner could lead to the Lions being the first to take a bounding cannonball into that position pool by making Jason Gilbert a top 10 pick. Wide receiver is also a significant need with Nate Burleson jettisoned, which is why Mike Evans has often been linked to Detroit. When the 6’4″ Evans is put opposite the 6’5″ Johnson, they’ll block out the sun.