Last year was one of the more bizarre offseasons for free agent defensive backs, with multiple safeties remaining out on the open market for a long time. Some speculation surrounding Eric Reid helped to fuel concerns, but he wasn't the only guy who couldn't land a job.
This year should be very different. The defensive back group is headlined by a trio of big-name safeties, with different paths in the NFL. Regardless of how you feel about the top three on this list, all of them should quickly find homes because of their ability to impact defensive schemes.
There are also some nice cornerbacks hitting the market this year; there's no true stud out there, but plenty of guys with upside. Overall the depth of this group is really impressive and it wouldn't be surprising to see some bigger contracts come out as the musical chairs start to move.
1. Earl Thomas
I'm not here to Seahawks star. We're talking about a future Hall of Famer who is a DPOY caliber guy when he's on the field. It's a risk to pay Thomas given his age and the injuries, but if he gives you a full season he will change the way people look at your defense. I think Earl's going to be motivated to prove the Seahawks wrong and you get a big season from him in 2019.. Yeah, he's older and, yeah, you shouldn't pay for past performance. I get not wanting to give Thomas big money at this stage of the game. But you're not going to need some five-year, $50 million contract to land the former
There's a lot of debate about whether or not Collins has cleaned out his locker with the Giants in anticipation of being a free agent, but Collins made it clear that he was bouncing out of the Giants facility for good when he left on Wednesday.
The stuff in that locker that I have left I do not need💯— LANDON COLLINS (@TheHumble_21) February 20, 2019
Unfortunately for Collins it might not matter, because the Giants have the ability to franchise tag him. He's a 25-year-old former All-Pro safety who has flashed some serious playmaking ability on the defensive end. Letting him walk would be pretty wild, although he was drafted by a different regime and GM Dave Gettleman doesn't believe in paying big money for defensive backs. If Collins hits the open market he's going to net a big pile of cash -- anything less would mean there's something seriously odd going on with the safety market all over the NFL.
Very nice bounceback season for the Honey Badger in his single year with the Texans. Maybe he sticks around, but I would anticipate Mathieu is willing to maximize what should be his last really big bite of the proverbial apple in true free agency. He knows how quickly a big NFL contract can turn into a voided deal. He's also only 25 years old, even though it feels like Mathieu has been around forever. Mathieu is as versatile as it gets, with his ability to play multiple positions on defense while also stepping up to stop the run with alacrity.
4. Ronald Darby
Once upon a time Darby was a second round pick out of Florida State, but his star fell some when he was traded by the Bills to the Eagles. That may have been more of a "Bills thing," though, because Darby's been impressive the last two years, except he hasn't been on the field enough to really put up huge seasons, playing just 17 total games the last two seasons. He's still young though, as Darby just turned 25 years old. Look at this list -- it's hard to find a high-end cornerback on the open market on any given year. Darby could end up striking a pretty good deal on the open market.
Joyner played on the tag last year after the Rams placed the tag on a defensive back for the third straight year (Trumaine Johnson got it the two years prior) and now will walk into free agency. He's always been solid but not spectacular, moving into the full-time starting safety role under Wade Phillips and improving his overall quality of play. Joyner has four picks the last two years after recording none in his first three seasons.
The Bears defense secretly took a pretty big dip once Callahan suffered a season-ending injury during the back end of the 2018 year. He's a 27-year-old nickel corner who's put together a pair of back-to-back impressive seasons for Chicago, recording a pair of interceptions in each year and becoming a critical piece of the Bears defense. The league has been playing nickel more than 60 percent of the time for a while now, so Callahan could be a sneakily valuable commodity on the open market.
There's probably no way Verrett gets more than a one-year deal out in free agency based on his injury history, but if I was trying to gamble on a bounceback, I would take it on Verrett. There aren't many more talented players -- he's a former first-round pick for the Chargers -- and he has a history of playing really well when he's on the field. He's smaller, but capable of playing all over the place, and has recorded five interceptions in just 25 career games. If he plays a full season he might be a Pro Bowl player and he's still just 27 years old.
8. Adrian Amos
Another piece of the Bears defense likely to get paid, Amos put together a very nice season in 2018, his fourth straight impressive effort since being taken by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He's recorded three interceptions in the last two years and has put up some all-around good numbers recently. Given his age -- he won't turn 26 until late April -- it wouldn't be crazy to see him land some kind of decent deal, although, again, safety has been a tricky thing for free agents in recent years.
9. Bradley Roby
There are a number of different cornerbacks who might end up being left off this list and I'm a little worried about what we saw from Roby once Aqib Talib left town and he was forced into a more prominent role. But I also think you've got a guy with his type of talent, a former first-round pick, and he might very well slot in nicely as a strong No. 2 corner in the right system. Given the importance of the position, it's hard not to like the upside that Roby brings to the table.
10. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix
Moved at the trade deadline during the 2018 season, the former first-round pick out of Alabama produced some good efforts for both the Packers and the Redskins. He's got 14 picks in five years since being a first-round pick by Green Bay and is only 26 years old as well. This is a really young safety who might not be completely built for the modern game, but he's a guy who can lay some wood and has experience in multiple stops.