For whatever reason, cornerback Stanford Routt did not sign with the Cincinnati Bengals. That $20 million honor went to the Kansas City Chiefs. However, that signing consequently opened the door to another cornerback: Brandon Carr. After the Routt signing, ESPN's John Clayton tweeted the following:
With more than $52 million of contracts tied up in CBs Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt, expect KC to let Brandon Carr walk
Brandon Carr is regarded as a top cornerback in the league, so the decision to go with Routt must be based on financial concerns. Now with Carr all but out of Kansas City, could he possibly fit into the Bengal's plan?
Cornerback has been the primary concern all offseason, and it will remain a concern until it is addressed by free agency or a draft pick. The options at this point are pretty straight forward. If Cincinnati waits until the draft, then they're looking at Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins, South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore or Nebraska's Alonzo Dennard. Kirkpatrick has emerged as the top prospect (other than LSU's Morris Claiborne who will be a top 5 pick) but may not be available at No. 17. Jenkins' availability is more assured, and his talent could possibly provide the immediate fix the Bengals need at cornerback. However, the questions on Jenkins do not concern his talent but rather his legal history. Drug charges and personal misconduct led to his dismissal from the University of Florida's football team and raise many concerns amongst NFL front offices as to his focus and ability to become a consistent cornerback in the league. Gilmore and Dennard will likely be second round picks needing a year or two of development.
Free agency, as of this moment, offers two big names at the cornerback position: Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan. The 29 year old Grimes is a top cornerback in the league and has played exceptionally the past three seasons. He only had one interception in 2011, but allowed a miniscule 44.6% completion on passes targeted at him: 3rd best in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the best available free agent cornerback and the second best free agent overall. The Atlanta Journal Constitution Falcons beat writer Orlando Ledbetter reports that Grimes may ask for a six year deal worth close to $60 million--similar to the contract Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson received in 2010--however, the Falcons would consider no more than a four year deal. Unless the Falcons use their franchise tag, which would cost them over $10 million, it's highly probable Grimes' services will be available this offseason. Grimes will be a highly sought after player, but at 29, he may not be worth the cost.
Cortland Finnegan offers a slighly younger alternative (28 years old), but may not come much cheaper. NBC Sports reports than Finnegan is looking for a deal greater than the five year, $48.75 million deal Johnathan Joseph signed last offseason with the Houston Texans--a deal Tennessee appears unwilling to offer. Barring the $10 million franchise tag, Finnegan will also be an unrestricted free agent. Pro Football Focus ranks Finnegan as the second best free agent cornerback, fifth best free agent overall.
Big money will be thrown at the top free agent cornerbacks and Brandon Carr would be no different. But the distinction to draw between Grimes, Finnegan and Carr is age. Grimes: 29. Finnegan: 28. Carr: 26. For the Bengals, a team desperate for young cornerback talent, Carr perfectly fits the bill. In early January Pro Football Weekly reported the following regarding Carr's contract situation:
Because he doesn't play to CB Brandon Flowers' level, we hear it is unrealistic to expect Chiefs CB Brandon Carr to receive a contract similar to Flowers'. Flowers signed a five-year, $50 million contract last September.
What are the pros and cons of signing Carr?
- Pro Football Focus ranks him the thrid best free agent cornerback and the 11th best free agent overall. On passes target towards him, Carr held his receiver to a 49.4% completion--tenth best in the NFL--and held the quarterback to a 61.7 passer rating--8th best in the NFL.
- As oppossed to any cornerback Cincinnati may get in the draft (Kirkpatrick, Jenkins, etc.), Carr won't need any development time. He would immediately address the cornerback woes and start right away.
- Cornerback would no longer be a top draft day need. It's still likely Cincinnati would draft a cornerback to provide depth or a third defensive back option, but the priority placed on finding a cornerback would drasticallly fall. With their two first round picks, Cincinnati could focus on guard, safety, running back and wide receiver.
- There's really only one con but if there is any reason Mike Brown would turn away from Brandon Carr, then it's this: money. The passage above says that Carr would not receive a five year, $50 million contract, but as a free agent he could come close. With the current direction of the NFL as a pass first league, teams will surely be willing to overpay a highly talented 26 year old cornerback. The contract might not reach the $50 million mark, but it will no doubt be a good chuck of change.