There's a good chance the Denver Broncos will add a veteran cornerback in free agency because most of their returning players at the position don't have much experience.
The recent release of A.J. Bouye leaves Bryce Callahan with the most experience on Denver's roster, as he will enter his seventh season. After Callahan, the corner with the most experience is Nate Hairston, who enters his fifth season. But Hairston only played in three games for the Broncos in 2020. Duke Dawson will enter his fourth season, but he has mostly played special teams.
Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey saw plenty of game action in 2020 as rookies so it's clear the Broncos could use another experienced player at the position. Will the team be able to find one in free agency?
Teams are still making roster decisions, so we don't have all information available about possible street free agents — though we might be able to make some guesses there.
In the meantime, let's review the cornerbacks heading for unrestricted free agency to see what the field holds. Here are those who are likely to garner the most interest from teams.
Richard Sherman | ex-San Francisco
Sherman will be 33 years old, but he continues to play at a high level. Though he missed time with injuries in 2020, he played well when he was healthy and didn't show any signs of decline.
Age and injuries, though, are concerns with him, but he could be the right player to stabilize the young cornerback contingent the Broncos have and provide leadership. One question to ask, of course, is whether he would prefer to play for a team that is closer to reaching the Super Bowl.
Patrick Peterson | ex-Arizona
The Cardinals have reportedly decided not to bring back Peterson, who was a top cornerback in his prime years and also a good returner. However, he's 31 years old, coming off a down season, and hasn't been used in the return game since 2018.
Because of those factors, Peterson shouldn't re-set the market. However, you have to ask yourself if his down season happened to be because of scheme, or because he's simply not the player he used to be. He could provide stability, but he hasn't played as well as Sherman has the past two seasons.
William Jackson III | ex-Cincinnati
Jackson has been a solid player for the Bengals, but their decision to bring in Trae Waynes on a multi-year deal last season would indicate they don't think he's a long-term option. Jackson, a former first-round pick, has played out his rookie deal (including his fifth-year option), but he'll be 29 years old, so he's not exactly a young player.
Jackson probably isn't going to be the lead cornerback for a team, but he could be a good No. 2 option. That means you have to be careful not to overpay — there's a chance he benefits from a market that doesn't have any No. 1 options in their prime years.
Shaquil Griffin | ex-Seattle
While Griffin isn't as talented as the defensive backs from the Legion of Boom years, he was a good player for the Seahawks the past two seasons. It's possible the Seahawks try to extend him, but if he hits the open market, there should be plenty of suitors for the 26-year-old player.
As with Jackson, Griffin probably won't be the lead cornerback for a team, but he's the ideal No. 2 corner. It's possible he takes a one-year 'prove it' deal in hopes of hitting it big, but if he seeks a long-term deal, the same caveat about Jackson regarding an overpay applies to Griffin.
Xavier Rhodes | ex-Indianapolis
Rhodes had a terrible season in 2019 while with the Vikings and was cut, but took a one-year deal with the Colts and bounced back. Some Broncos fans might make the connection to George Paton and see Rhodes as a worthy addition.
It's possible the Colts retain him because of the leadership he brings, but if he hits the open market, he might be the best option for the Broncos, as long as you get him at the right price. There's a chance he takes less money than Sherman or Peterson, given that some teams may have doubts that the 31-year-old player can build off his 2020 performance.
Troy Hill | ex-Rams
One of the more versatile cornerbacks who could hit the open market, he had two quality seasons with the Rams. He'll be 30 years old, but his versatility could make up for his age.
The Rams might try to retain him, but if they don't, he does hold some intrigue at the right price. One must keep in mind he does his best work when you have a quality pass rush — the Broncos were good in that department last year, but if too many players are out with injuries, Hill isn't somebody who can compensate by shutting receivers down.
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Brian Poole | ex-Jets
The slot corner played the past two seasons for the Jets on low-cost contracts. He missed seven games last season with a knee injury, though it was the first season he missed any games.
I've thought highly of Poole before and he still has the talent to help a team, but because his best work is in the slot, he might not be what the Broncos need unless they have concerns about Callahan's health. But Poole should remain an inexpensive player if the Broncos have an interest.
Chidobe Awuzie | ex-Dallas
Awuzie has started for the Cowboys since his rookie season and has had an up-and-down career. He has also missed 15 games in his career (one because of COVID-19), so there are injury concerns.
He is 26 years old but is better suited to be a No. 2 cornerback, and might be better off joining a team that has a true No. 1 cornerback on a rookie deal. It seems likely he'll have to take a one-year, low-cost deal, so if you are hoping to find value, Awuzie might make sense.
Kevin Johnson | ex-Cleveland
The former 2015 first-round pick is still trying to find his niche in the NFL, but he did find a role with the Browns this past season. However, injuries are a concern, because he has missed 32 games in six seasons.
Johnson probably isn't the guy the Broncos want, between his injury issues and the fact he's better off in the slot. His health concerns are a reason you wouldn't want Johnson to replace Callahan.
Michael Davis | ex-Chargers
The Chargers cornerback quietly put together a quality season, but at the level of a No. 2 cornerback. Despite his size, he doesn't really have the skillset for what you would consider to be a 'shutdown' corner.
But Davis is 26 years old, so he's not that bad of an option if you're simply looking at it from a talent standpoint. However, if you're looking for somebody who has the potential to be a No. 1 corner, you should seek other options.
Desmond King II | ex-Chargers
King isn't far removed from a strong 2018 season, in which he may have been the best slot corner in the NFL. However, he hasn't reached those heights since and 2020 was a disappointing year for him.
If you are interested in King, you are gambling on him finding that 2018 form he had. He might also be worth a shot if you want help in the return game, because King does bring experience there.
Mike Hilton | ex-Pittsburgh
Hilton rose from the practice squad to the starting lineup during his time with the Steelers. However, the 27-year-old player is a pure slot corner and doesn't really fit elsewhere in the lineup.
Unless you think it's important that the Broncos replace Callahan, there isn't a need to consider Hilton. He isn't the player who can help the Broncos outside of the slot.
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