NFL teams that need defensive backs: Here's how Bears, Cowboys, Vikings and other teams can address issue
Attempting to fill cornerback and safety vacancies for teams in need of secondary help
The first and biggest wave of 2020 NFL free agency has come and gone, and with the draft now right around the corner, the headlines of big-name veteran additions have slowed. But that doesn't mean teams have stopped looking for ways to improve their rosters and, in some cases, fill remaining needs.
Defensive back, specifically, is a position a big handful of organizations figure to address in the coming weeks and months.
Here's a look at some of the teams most in need of cornerback and safety help, as well as potential solutions:
The Falcons weren't necessarily wrong to cut ties with Desmond Trufant, who ended 2019 on injured reserve, but now they need CB help like nobody's business. Isaiah Oliver might finally be hitting his stride, but who else can man the outside here? Blidi Wreh-Wilson should be insurance only. Regardless, Atlanta has a penchant for adding DBs in the draft, so help should be on the way.
Whether they just draft a CB high, sign Breeland or do both, the Falcons can't leave the draft without at least one starter. Getting Ohio State's Jeff Okudah, the consensus No. 1 corner, would be the dream scenario, but Atlanta doesn't have the draft capital to move up that far, or at least smartly. Henderson would be a fine first-rounder and a steal of a second-rounder, whereas Breeland, one of the most underrated veterans still available, could come in and give you adequate No. 1-2 play from the jump.
Isn't Buffalo's defense already dominant, you ask? Well, pretty much, but after losing Kevin Johnson in free agency, the Bills definitely need more depth, not to mention a long-term option for the outside, where an aging Josh Norman is one tweaked hamstring away from another lost season. Maybe Norman rekindles his fire in Buffalo, but Tre'Davious White is the only great sure thing here.
- Draft a CB in the third or fourth round
Edge rusher is a bigger need to tackle in the second round, but come the end of Day Two or start of Day Three, Buffalo should have plenty of decent prospects to choose from, at least as developmental depth. Ohio State's Damon Arnette feels like the kind of feisty rookie who could learn under Sean McDermott if he's still on the board. Iowa's Michael Ojemudia could also make some sense. Either way, they aren't in dire need of more veteran help with Norman in tow. Their priority should be the pipeline.
Should the Panthers have outbid the New York Giants to keep James Bradberry? That's debatable. But at 26, it's not like the guy couldn't have still been a building block. The hole he leaves is real, with only Donte Jackson representing a proven piece in Carolina's secondary. Getting a long-term outside starter is priority No. 1 at the position, not to mention high up on the team's overall wish list.
- Draft Jeff Okudah or another CB in the second round
- Draft another CB in the fifth, sixth or seventh round
The formula is simple here: Draft, and then draft some more. If the Panthers weren't willing to re-sign Bradberry, then there's no reason they should be wasting money on any of the mostly stopgap veterans still on the market. Assuming the Matt Rhule rebuild is more like a slow burn than a quick fix, the best thing the Panthers can do is hope for an Okudah slide and/or double dip at the position. Coming away with any of the top prospects (Kristian Fulton? Trevon Diggs?) would be a major plus.
The Bears ended Prince Amukamara's run in Windy City after two years this offseason, mostly to create cap space but also because an upgrade was in order. Kyle Fuller, meanwhile, is a solid starter, but if Chicago believes trotting Artie Burns out there as the No. 2 is a good -- no, passable -- plan for an entire season, well, it's misguided. Your best alternative bet: A 30-year-old Buster Skrine.
Chicago is, or should be, in win-now mode. The Bears defense is still a top-tier unit, more than capable of dragging this team above .500 and, likely, into the playoffs. With Nick Foles on track to replace Mitchell Trubisky at some point, they're even better. So the best move for shoring up CB would be to do some serious cap maneuvering (or get a time machine and reverse the Jimmy Graham deal), then pony up for Ryan, who deserves a No. 1 job and has been steady for two contenders. Even if it's a short-term deal, it works.
CB is not the issue in Cleveland. Between Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Terrance Mitchell and new addition Kevin Johnson, they'll be fine on the outside. It's safety that should keep them up at night. Morgan Burnett was solid but predictably banged up in 2019, hence his departure, and while Karl Joseph is now aboard, Andrew Sendejo as the other starter all but guarantees mixed results.
- Trade for Anthony Harris (Vikings) or Lamarcus Joyner (Raiders)
- Sign Tony Jefferson (Ravens) or Eric Reid (Panthers)
- Draft a S in the second, third or fourth round
The best thing Cleveland could do for its 2020 secondary is reunite the ball-hawking Harris with Kevin Stefanski, his fellow Vikings alumnus. If the cost is too high, Joyner would be a sneakily intriguing CB/S hybrid for Gregg Williams, who drafted the ex-Ram years ago, and he could probably be had from a Raiders team still poking around for DB help. The free agent market isn't barren, either, as both Reid and Jefferson could play the Burnett role with more grit and/or athleticism, whereas a rookie would give them someone to develop in the wake of the 2019 Jabrill Peppers move.
By remaining firm in their decision not to enter a bidding war for Byron Jones, the Cowboys lost their clear-cut top cover man this offseason, and even after adding Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety, they have needs on both levels of the secondary. Reinforcements up front should help them prioritize DB additions in the draft, as Anthony Brown opposite Chidobe Awuzie at CB is not a great solution.
- Draft Xavier McKinney or another S in the second or third round
- Draft a CB in the second or third round
- Sign Prince Amukamara (Bears) or Reshad Jones (Dolphins)
Ideally, Dallas would bolster depth at both CB and S before kicking off in 2020. Putting McKinney next to Xavier Woods could give the 'Boys one of the top up-and-coming duos at the position, but that may require some maneuvering on draft day. Any of A.J. Terrell, Jaylon Johnson or Jeff Gladney would be reasonable targets on the first two days of the draft. Amukamara and Jones, meanwhile, would be smart, short-term fliers whether or not Dallas lands a starter from this year's rookie class. They each have their own medical concerns, but their "A" game, particularly that of Jones, would offer a big boost in the wake of Jones' departure.
The Broncos didn't sit pat in the secondary even while watching Chris Harris head elsewhere. They tagged Justin Simmons with authority, intent on keeping the rising talent in town. They also added A.J. Bouye for a mid-round pick, giving Vic Fangio two solid, experienced starters on the outside. Behind them, however, there are pretty much just question marks. A long-term answer is missing.
- Draft a CB in the first, second or third round
They already went the veteran route by adding Bouye, and if they were dead serious about assembling a secondary built to make a title run in 2020, they probably would've overpaid to keep Harris or gone in on, well, anyone more proven than De'Vante Bausby. The best thing they can do is invest in somebody to groom, whether that's as early as No. 15 or as late as the third round, after they've addressed other needs like wide receiver and offensive line.
The Lions did some serious tweaking to their secondary this offseason; it just wasn't very good tweaking. Darius Slay was bent on ridding himself of Matt Patricia, but he's still a big loss considering his sterling resume. Desmond Trufant is a fine replacement, but is the cliff right around the corner? Other than Justin Coleman, it's hard to find a lot to like here, especially for a "defensive" roster.
- Draft Jeff Okudah or another CB in the first or second round
This decision may very well impact the post-Patricia Lions more than anything, but either way, Detroit's M.O. for April should be leaving the draft with a premiere talent to plug in on the outside. They have needs elsewhere on "D," but only nabbing Okudah or another early-round cover man will justify the way they allowed the Slay situation to devolve into an auction for his Pro Bowl services.
This is what happens when you trade Jalen Ramsey and then, to a lesser degree, trade A.J. Bouye. By virtue of tearing down their one-time CB building blocks, Jacksonville is forced to start from scratch, and their desperation this year has already shown: First in signing (but then failing to secure) Darqueze Dennard and then in signing Lions castoff Rashaan Melvin. They need a new No. 1.
- Draft a CB and/or S in the first or second round
Melvin "satisfies" the veteran plug-in, but even with more appealing names on the market, their best bet is building from the ground up. The sad reality is the Jags have to hope the CB or S they target only comes close to what Ramsey often was for them. Someone like Kristian Fulton would be a nice first-round addition. If, somehow, they wait even longer, Virginia's Bryce Hall seems like a fit.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs just won a Super Bowl, so they're probably still soaking up the sun, but whenever they're done, they'd better get their act together in the secondary. Juan Thornhill and Tyrann Mathieu make a great tandem at safety, but the CB room is bare with Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland and Morris Claiborne all gone. Outside of Charvarius Ward, it's just Alex Brown and a bunch of bodies.
- Sign Eli Apple (Saints) or Dre Kirkpatrick (Bengals)
- Draft a CB in the first, second or third round
- Trade for Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)
If K.C. is intent on running it back while Patrick Mahomes is still an incredible bargain, they could easily manipulate the cap to take a flyer on Apple or Kirkpatrick, both of whom could give them serviceable starting reps on Day One. Apple, in particular, makes a lot of sense as a developmental playmaker after his deal with the Raiders fell through. Otherwise, no CB should be off limits early in the draft, and it'd be nonsensical for the Chiefs not to re-check in on Peterson, who's not what he used to be but is entering a contract year and would assuredly love reuniting with Mathieu.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders have invested at corner, drafting Trayvon Mullen in the second round in 2019, but they've also discarded other investments (i.e. Gareon Conley). As it stands, Las Vegas' CB depth chart is topped by Mullen, Nick Nelson, Nevin Lawson, Keisan Nixon and Isaiah Johnson. In other words, they need help, and they need it pretty badly. More than one addition is a must.
- Draft a CB in the first or third round
- Draft another CB in the third, fourth or fifth round
The Raiders are without a second-rounder, so that's the only reason they can't double-dip there, or at least barring a trade. No matter what, adding at least two rookie DBs should be a requirement for draft weekend. If they can somehow come away with Xavier McKinney and a top CB (C.J. Henderson? A.J. Terrell?) on Day One, Mike Mayock should get a standing ovation.
If you're a Vikings fan, you don't need to be told why this is a need. For crying out loud, there's none bigger! Minnesota cut Xavier Rhodes to save money and watched as the Bengals scooped up both Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, and we're still unsure of Anthony Harris's future. So it's basically Harrison Smith, Mike Hughes and no one else in the secondary right now.
- Draft a CB in the first round
- Sign Darqueze Dennard (Bengals)
Sorry, but even in this historic WR draft, there's no excuse for the Vikings not to add a CB early -- and perhaps often -- in April. Kristian Fulton, A.J. Terrell or Jeff Gladney would all be welcome additions to a barren cupboard, as would Trevon Diggs, even though the broken family connection would be weird. Dennard, meanwhile, makes all the sense in the world as a stopgap plug-and-play option in the slot, where Alexander no longer resides. Return the favor to Cincy by getting their former first-rounder.
The Niners are fresh off a Super Bowl run fueled largely by their defense, so don't take this as San Francisco needing to find a lock-down starter ASAP. But Richard Sherman is 32, entering the last year of his deal and hasn't played 16 games in three seasons. Jimmie Ward is also back but has an even sketchier injury history. If the 49ers want to go the distance, they'll need better depth.
Again, neither CB nor S should be viewed as a pressing need when San Francisco should be more focused on adding, say, an Emmanuel Sanders replacement out wide. Pretty much any round should be open season for adding a Sherman successor, though, with Tulsa's Reggie Robinson an intriguing project to watch. An alternative/supplement to grooming a corner: Acquiring a youngster from elsewhere. Jones fits that bill -- a former first-round talent, still just 23, but with no clear future in Philadelphia.
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