The New York Jets might have a noteworthy void to fill at the cornerback position ahead of the 2021 campaign.
The secondary in Florham Park may be falling apart. After the Jets finished 28th in pass defense in 2020, numerous contracts in and around the team’s defensive backfield are set to expire next month. Cornerbacks Brian Poole and Arthur Maulet could depart, which may force the Jets to address that position in both the draft and free agency.
In the event multiple corners don’t remain, the Jets should utilize either outlet to acquire new talent. But even if they end up drafting a corner in the second round, third round, or even in the back half of the first round (at No. 23 overall), they should still ink a veteran free agent to perform on a short-term deal and assist in the development of that young rookie. It’s difficult to ask a first-year corner (regardless of their draft status) to start or at least take on a noteworthy role right away, given the speed of the NFL in comparison to the collegiate level.
Which pending free agents could the Jets consider?
Xavier Rhodes (Colts)
Having just played for Indianapolis on a one-year, $3.0 million deal, there’s a chance Xavier Rhodes won’t be too expensive. According to Spotrac, his market value carries an average annual salary of $7.3 million. For comparison, Brian Poole’s average salary in 2020 was $5 million.
Sure, Rhodes is entering his age-31 season and only getting older, but it’s not like he would be in Florham Park for too long, considering the aforementioned possibility of the Jets acquiring a young corner in the draft.
He’s additionally been successful in this league and would be a great mentor and leader for the Jets defensive backfield. Rhodes has earned three Pro Bowl bids (the latest coming with the Vikings in 2019), a first-team All-Pro selection (in 2017), and can still produce in coverage. The veteran allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 51.9% of throws for a combined 84.5 rating in 2020.
Richard Sherman (49ers)
Familiarity goes a long way in the NFL, and that quality would surely present itself if Richard Sherman came to Florham Park. Sherman would once again team up with Jets head coach Robert Saleh (who was his defensive coordinator in San Francisco the last three seasons) and Jets senior defensive assistant and cornerbacks coach Tony Oden (his cornerbacks coach last year).
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better leader for this entire defensive unit, an 11-man group looking to improve in more ways than one. Any young cornerback (or general defensive back, for that matter) would be grateful to learn from the five-time Pro Bowler.
Sherman’s injury-plagued 2020 season and increasing age may also make him not as expensive — his Spotrac market value currently carries an average annual salary of $9.9 million.
He still likely has what it takes to succeed on the field as well. In his 2019 Pro Bowl campaign, Sherman helped lead the Niners to the Super Bowl and was part of a defense that allowed just 169.2 passing yards per game in the regular season, a mark that sat atop the NFL.
Nickell Robey-Coleman (Eagles)
This is most likely the least intriguing of the three choices, but Nickell Robey-Coleman would be pairing with Marquand Manuel, who will be working with the Jets safeties but was Robey-Coleman’s defensive backs coach in Philly last year.
Robey-Coleman would definitely be cheap, which is perfect for a stopgap type of scenario. He played for the Eagles on a one-year, $1.35 million deal last season and could sign a contract of the same magnitude for 2021.
One of the issues with Nickell, however, is that he carries a weakness when it comes to the physical side of the game. He recorded missed tackle rates of 18.2% and 18.5% in 2019 and 2020, respectively.