While six NFL team executives and coaches agreed that New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is the top player at his position and perhaps the top player available via trade or free agency this year, all of them said that there's enough depth at the position that getting by without Revis would be tolerable.
"If you play this out the right way, you can get two guys this year for less than you'd pay for Revis," one coach said. "You normally can't say that about cornerbacks and let's not fool anybody, I'd rather have Revis than just about any two guys on the rest of the list.
"But if I don't get him, we can probably survive OK."
The position this season features roughly 18 cornerbacks (including Nnamdi Asomugha, expected to soon part ways with the Philadelphia Eagles) who have the ability to start, such as Aqib Talib, or at least be a solid nickel player, such as Brice McCain.
"Very deep, which is why you've seen some deals happen already that were probably cheaper than you would have expected in most years," a general manager said, referring to a four-year, $20 million deal that Leodis McKelvin agreed to with the Buffalo Bills this weekend and a three-year deal that Dunta Robinson got with Kansas City on Friday.
The details of Robinson's deal have yet to emerge, but multiple sources said that the Chiefs were hoping to get Robinson done and still sign another cornerback such as Sean Smith so that they could have a trio of Robinson, Smith and Brandon Flowers.
That's in line with the thinking of most teams today. Most clubs play with a third cornerback on at least 40 percent of the downs in this era. That's a huge change from two decades ago.
In the best situation, a team has a cornerback like Revis, who can primarily take care of the offense's best receiver. That allows the safeties and other defenders to help the other cornerbacks. On teams that don't have a cornerback of Revis' ability, the hope is to have three experienced cornerbacks. The question becomes, how much do you spend on cornerbacks, particularly in a saturated market?
"You're going to see some really good players come in at maybe $3-$4 million a year. These are guys who would have gotten $6 or $7 million a couple of years ago," an AFC team executive said. "I know the agents are blaming it on the flat [salary] cap, but it's just a matter of the numbers."
Here are the top cornerbacks on the free-agent market (most recent team in parentheses):
1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Eagles): Amazing quickness, but not at all physical.
2. Sean Smith (Miami Dolphins): Hitting market at right time. Bad hands but great size (6-foot-3).
3. Aqib Talib (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots): Would be the top guy on this list if not for off-field issues.
4. Brent Grimes (Atlanta Falcons): Coming off ACL tear. Small (5-10, 183 pounds) but extremely tough.
5. Nnamdi Asomugha (Eagles): Expected to be cut or traded by Philly soon.
6. Derek Cox (Jacksonville Jaguars): Good size (6-1). Twelve career interceptions in four years.
7. Quentin Jammer (San Diego Chargers): Turns 34 in June, so short-term only.
8. Antoine Cason (Chargers): Durable, tough and only 26. He's a commodity.
9. Chris Houston (Detroit Lions): Good player in man-to-man schemes.
10. Chris Gamble (Carolina Panthers): Scratch him off the list if he is indeed retiring.
11. Mike Jenkins (Dallas Cowboys): Lost starting job last season. Has sulked a bit.
12. Cary Williams (Baltimore Ravens): Coming off best season. Good playoff run, but inconsistent.
13. Keenan Lewis (Pittsburgh Steelers): Finally started to figure it out last year.
14. Kyle Arrington (Patriots): Smart, tough, but not extraordinarily gifted.
15. Darius Butler (Indianapolis Colts): Former second-round pick has bounced around, but had nice year.
16. Jerraud Powers (Colts): Has missed 12 total games past two seasons, but has skills.
17. Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers): His size (5-8) limits him, but he makes his share of plays.
18. Brice McCain (Houston Texans): Strictly a nickel guy, but a really good one at it.
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