Free agency preview: Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward headline deep defensive back talent pool

Shutdown Corner

With the NFL's salary cap increasing by about $10 million from last year to $133 million and teams having holes to fill, free agency should be hectic. Shutdown Corner will have you covered, with a preview of a different position each day leading up to the start of the free-agency period on Tuesday.

Here is Shutdown Corner’s breakdown of free-agent defensive backs:

Market Watch

It might be hard for teams to find a tight end in free agency, but that is not the case with defensive backs. There are enough quality cornerbacks and safeties out there to create a buyer’s market, which will help any team looking for secondary help.

Unfortunately, that may not help some players who are desperately seeking a lucrative long-term deal, such as Detroit safety Louis Delmas, New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins, Baltimore safety James Ihedigbo, St. Louis cornerback Cortland Finnegan or Minnesota cornerback Chris Cook. Those players might be forced to sign short-term deals – Finnegan cannot complain after the $50 million contract ($27 million guaranteed) he signed in 2012 – but potential playoff teams can add another defensive back without overspending.  

Top Attraction: Jairus Byrd, Bills, S

When a three-time Pro Bowler who is 27 years old hits the free-agent market, he is going to attract a lot of interest. Byrd suffered through four coaches (Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell, Chan Gailey and Doug Marrone) and five losing seasons in Buffalo since he was drafted in 2009. He received the franchise tag in 2013, but Buffalo did not apply the same designation this year. It means Byrd will finally obtain a long-term deal, and possibly with a winning team.

Byrd has 356 tackles, 33 pass breakups and 22 interceptions in his career. He did not play until Week 6 due to foot soreness last season, but finished with four interceptions in 11 games.

Any team that does not acquire Byrd will likely obtain Browns safety T.J. Ward, and both are elite defensive backs. Some teams prefer Ward over Byrd, but each safety will have several options.

Chicago, Green Bay, Cleveland and Tennessee are the most obvious destinations for Byrd. Each team needs safety help.

Do not rule out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gill Byrd, Jarius’ father, became Tampa Bay’s cornerbacks coach in January, and there might be a father-son reunion this offseason.

Buyer Beware: Charles Tillman, Bears

Sure, Tillman is a two-time Pro Bowler, and he once was viewed as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks. There are a few other things that need to be added to Tillman’s résumé.

Tillman’s streak of 53 consecutive games played was snapped last year due to a knee injury. He missed the final seven games of the season with a torn triceps muscle, and still has not been medically cleared because of that injury. Tillman, 33, probably won't receive much more than a one-year deal, which means he will have to fight for a roster spot.

Frugal Addition: Brandon Browner, Seahawks, CB

How can Browner’s agent convince an NFL team to invest a lot of money into his client?

He cannot.

Browner fought to be reinstated by the NFL after violating the substance abuse policy – again. His indefinite suspension was removed, but he still must serve a four-game suspension to start the 2014 season. Browner has talent, which means at least one team will take a risk. It is hard to imagine he will receive a contract with many financial guarantees.

The Buzz

Vontae Davis is arguably the top free-agent cornerback available, and Indianapolis is struggling to re-sign him. According to Stephen Holder of The Indianapolis Star, both sides are “relatively far apart in negotiations.” Davis, 25, is an elite corner, and one team will reward him during free agency.

Best of the Rest

Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib stayed out of trouble during his two years in New England, which should help him during contract negotiations. New England must remember Denver had a 3-0 lead in the AFC championship game before Talib’s injury affected the outcome. Of course, Talib has sustained injuries in two straight AFC championship games, and availability is more important than athletic ability … Packers cornerback Sam Shields signed a one-year restricted tender worth $2 million last summer prior to minicamp and made the league minimum before that. He is definitely going to cash in … Jets safety Ed Reed is technically a free agent, but there may not be a market for him … Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is 5-foot-8, but started in 16 games last season. Carolina may not have enough salary cap space to re-sign him. That is good news for other NFL teams.

Shutdown Corner's free agency preview schedule
March 3: Shutdown Corners's top 25 free agents
March 4: Quarterbacks
March 5: Running backs
March 6: Receivers/tight ends
March 7: Offensive linemen
March 8: Defensive backs
March 9: Linebackers
March 10: Defensive line

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Anwar S Richardson is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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