2006 NFL Free Agents: Cornerbacks and Safeties
By: Thomas J Gersey
1. Charles Woodson, Oakland [31 tackles, 1 INT]
It is no secret that Woodson has worn out his welcome in Oakland, and will be hitting the free agent market as early as he can. The primary reason stated by Oakland management will be that Woodson's skills have eroded to the point that he is no longer worth the money it will cost to keep him. While his on the field performance has certainly slipped over the years (culminating this season with a trip to the IR for a broken right leg) the real drain on Woodson's performance is better attributed to a lack of desire, and less to a lack of talent. Don't be fooled by the claims coming out of the East Bay, Woodson still has the ability to be a number one corner. What is missing is something to ignite the fire within him, something to push him to return to that elite level. An opportunity to play for a winner again, or to return to his midwest roots, may be the impetus Woodson needs to renew his career.
Already 29, teams should be wary of giving him a long term deal, however, they should not be afraid to insert him into their starting lineup. At 6'1, 200 lbs, Woodson is big and physical, with the ability to chuck receivers off the line before they can get into their routes. Although he lacks the closing speed of the game's premier corners, he is still quick enough to make up ground on most receivers. A step below elite players like Champ Bailey and Chris McAlister, Woodson still has the talent to compete with almost any corner in the game.
GOOD FITS: Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New England, Kansas City, Arizona, New York Jets, Dallas
EARLY PICK: The Lions would make sense for the former Wolverine, as he could team with another free agent signing, Dre Bly, to form the division's second best corner duo. However, shaky management and lack of a defensive mindset may steer Woodson elsewhere. Teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City would be ideal as they are already winners, a player or two away from being serious Super Bowl contenders. With Herm Edwards finally going to KC, both teams have defensive minded coaches who play a physical style. However, Cleveland and New England seem the best fits for Woodson. A native of Ohio, a return to his home state would give him the opportunity to work with Romeo Crennel, and to be the main fixture on a young, up and coming team. In addition, a team like the Browns is likely to be willing to over pay for Woodson, despite his injuries. If Woodson can sacrifice an immediate payday, then New England makes the most sense. Bill Belichik has a history of taking chances on players who wore out their welcome elsewhere (see: Corey Dillon, David Terrell, Rodney Harrison). Not all have worked out, but a player's personal history has never been a deterrant. After a hard fought season that saw the loss of numerous defensive players to injury, a physical corner like Woodson would fit in nicely in New England, and help return the Patriots to the top of the AFC.
2. Nate Clements, BUFF [102 tackles, 2 INT]
Clements has always been a good fit in Buffalo, and this season he did a solid job replacing Antoine Winfield as the team's primary corner. The 2 interceptions are not indicative of Clements' cover ability, as his 102 tackles reflect the amount of time he spent bringing down ball carriers who slipped through the pourous Buffalo run defense. Bigger than one might think, Clements was a very physical presence, forcing three fumbles, while remaining a ball hawk in the secondary, defending 13 passes.
Yet, for all of his statistical accomplishments, Clements failed to show the flare and athletic superiority of the game's elite corners. That, however, hasn't stopped him and his agent from seeking to make Clements the NFL's highest paid corner. Although it is highly unlikely he will be paid more than the current leader in salary, Champ Bailey, it is guaranteed that his asking price will take him out of Buffalo. An above average defender, and only 26 years old, Clements would be a tremendous loss to the Bills. However, numbers like 50-60 million dollars will be too much for a team that is more than a player away from solving their problems. Look for Clements to bolt to the highest bidder, with little regard for intangibles such as a winning team or a defensive system that plays to his strengths (see: Duane Starks, Arizona).
GOOD FITS: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Arizona, New York Jets, St Louis
EARLY PICK: A lot of familiar names pop up, and that is to be expected. However, Clements, while younger and healthier than Woodson, will also be pricier. Teams like Cincy and Cleveland will most likely be the first to contact the Ohio native and former Buckeye, with Cincy bowing out for lack of need and cap room. The Jets will be reluctant to overpay when they have so many other holes to fill, while Arizona is stil reeling from the last free agent they signed to play cornerback. In the end, it will come down to whether or not Buffalo franchises Clements. If they do, they are likely to have a locker room cancer for the entire year. Assuming they are scared off by that prospect, expect teams like St Louis, Houston and Pittsburgh to get into a bidding war for his services.
3. Adam Archuleta, St Louis [70 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT]
For years Archuleta has been known as a workout freak, but for all of his physical gifts, he has failed to become the dominant player many envisioned when he was a first round pick in 2001. At 223 lbs, with excellent speed, Archuleta was at his best in Lovie Smith's scheme, focusing more on attacking the ball, and less on maintaining his positioning. Under new Def Coordinator Joe Vitt, more focus was put on the zone, and Archuleta was left in open space while less talented players attempted to make plays across the field. Archuleta needs the ability to freelance, and a change of scenery would do him so good. The only real worry is that his aggressive style will get him into injury trouble, a problem that struck at the end of 2005 when he sat out the final game with a concussion. However, that fear should be assuaged by the knowledge that Archuleta is a true warrior, and plays to the maximum of his ability at all times. There is little risk he will coast through a long term contract like so many players before him.
GOOD FITS: Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, Oakland, Arizona, NY Giants
EARLY PICK: Cleveland and Arizona are going to be in on every blue chip free agent, as they are so far under the cap. However, Archuleta is likely to look for two things: (a) a good system, and (b) a winner. While Minnesota would be a good fit with their questions as to whether or not Corey Chavous and Brian Williams will be back, I like Chicago as a sleeper to get Archuleta at a slight discount. When Mike Brown and Chris Harris went down late in the year, backups Mike Green and Todd Johnson were exposed for their limitations. While Harris was a revelation as a rookie, the chance to upgrade with Archuleta would be too much to pass up. A former Lovie Smith disciple, Archuleta is a smaller version of Urlacher who would team with the Defensive Player of the Year to send more than one ball carrier to the IR next season.
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