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The competition in free agency for cornerbacks – largely between the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars – is expected to lead to a robust market which should include one deal that will pay more than $8 million per season, multiple league sources told Yahoo Sports.
A clear picture has emerged of what the market's financial floor for cornerbacks should look like during this free-agent signing period, which kicks off Tuesday, the official start of free agency. Here's a look at the crop of corners and teams in need of them:
Byron Maxwell (Seattle):
He is considered by many to be the top corner entering free agency. Maxwell is a big, fast, physical, and aggressive corner; he had 24 pass breakups and six interceptions over the past two seasons. What he lacks in experience (he has only 17 starts), he makes up for with the confidence he earned by excelling as a member of the "Legion of Boom."
Prediction: Maxwell, who was paid $645,000 last season (the last year of his rookie deal), will ask for, and likely get, north of $7 million per year.
Potential landing spots: Philadelphia, New York Jets, Jacksonville and Oakland
Chris Culliver (San Francisco):
He heads into free agency with as much momentum as any of his peers after racking up four interceptions and five pass breakups while being targeted 38 times over the 49ers' final seven games. His blend of size, speed and athleticism will make him an intriguing target for teams that prefer larger corners.
Prediction: Culliver, who was paid $1.4 million last season (the last year of his rookie deal), could get north of $7 million per year.
Potential landing spots: Philadelphia, New York Jets, Jacksonville and Oakland
Kareem Jackson (Houston):
Jackson is one of the most versatile corners available this year, having proven his ability with Houston to effectively play on the outside – he was targeted 21 times while giving up only nine catches for 44 yards – and on the inside after covering the slot on nearly 70 percent of his snaps during the 2014 season, per Pro Football Focus. At 26 years old, Jackson will be attractive to teams looking for long-term solutions.
Prediction: Jackson, who was paid roughly $3.1 million last season (the last year of his rookie deal), will ask for, and likely get, north of $5 million.
Potential landing spots: New York Jets, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Detroit and Miami
Brandon Flowers (San Diego):
Flowers, who said he was "the best corner in football" last offseason, certainly doesn't lack for confidence. He re-established his boast after last season, when he grabbed three interceptions and made 10 pass breakups in a season that saw him hold slot receivers to seven catches for 115 yards, per Pro Football Focus. Expect the market for his services to be robust.
Prediction: Flowers, who played last year on a one-year, $3 million deal, will ask for, and likely get, somewhere well north of $4 million per year.
Potential landing spots: Dallas, Jacksonville, Miami, San Diego, Philadelphia and San Francisco
BEST OF THE REST
Antonio Cromartie (Arizona): Cromartie, who played on a one-year, $3.5 million deal, will ask for, and likely get, more than $4 million per year.
Potential landing spots: Philadelphia, New York Jets and Jacksonville
Buster Skrine (Cleveland): Skrine, who was paid $1.43 million last season (the last year of his rookie deal), will ask for, and likely get, more than $3 million per year.
Potential landing spots: Houston, Miami and Tennessee
Tramon Williams (Green Bay): He was paid $6.9 million last year, but is likely to draw in the $4 million per year range in free agency.
Potential landing spots: Oakland, San Francisco, Jacksonville and Tennessee
TEAMS IN NEED
Philadelphia: The Eagles like big corners and many around the league think Maxwell is the foregone conclusion here. But are they ready to pay between $8 million and $10 million a year for Maxwell's services when they can get a big-bodied, athletic corner in the draft for considerably less?
Early indications are the answer is yes. The Eagles are "desperate for a corner" and are willing to pay "whatever they need to" in order to land Maxwell, one league source said. And while the Eagles may land Maxwell, given Chip Kelly's track record of drafting and signing players from the University of Oregon, Eagles fans should pay close attention to fifth-year pro Walter Thurmond, who played for Kelly in Eugene.
Other players to keep an eye on here are Chris Culliver and Kareem Jackson, whose versatility Kelly would appreciate. The Eagles have the seventh-most cap room in the league with roughly $40.2 million.
Oakland: The Raiders have a lot of holes to fill, but their lack of experience at cornerback is glaring. Of the six corners currently listed on their depth chart, only one has more than two years of service. They're in the market for a corner if the right one became available at the right price, though adding weapons on the defensive line through free agency is a higher priority for them, a league source indicated.
Kareem Jackson would be a good fit here, but because the Raiders have a preference for bigger corners with four of the six they currently have checking in at over 6 foot, don't count them out in the Maxwell sweepstakes. Adding a player like Antonio Cromartie to spur a short-term improvement might make more sense if they decide to allocate their vast resources to other positions of need. The Raiders have the second-most cap room in the league with roughly $57.4 million.
Houston: The Texans will need a replacement for standout five-year starter Kareem Jackson if he leaves via free agency. They've got nine-year vet Johnathan Joseph under contract for one more year, but if Jackson finds greener pastures, Joseph will be the only player left in their secondary with more than two years of experience. The Texans could be an ideal landing spot for players like Brandon Flowers and Buster Skrine given their respective skills, though Flowers is pushing 30 and would likely be a shorter-term solution compared to Skrine. The Texans currently have the ninth-least cap room in the league with roughly $12.6 million.
San Francisco: The 49ers have a young, inexperienced group that will be asked to step into the fire if Perrish Cox, Chris Culliver and Chris Cook all leave in free agency. In all likelihood, San Francisco will be forced to bring in at least one corner for next season, and potentially three. They'll be players in the free-agent corner market, multiple league sources say.
The 49ers currently have the fourth-least cap room in the league with roughly $7.59 million, but are expected to have a decent amount more (due to cuts, restructures, etc.) during free agency.
New York Jets: The Jets are in desperate need of help at cornerback and will be very active in the free-agent market. Kareem Jackson, Chris Culliver and Byron Maxwell will all be of interest to the Jets, and it's conceivable that they could make a play for a second, more affordable corner like Buster Skrine depending on how the early days of free agency play out. Players like Brandon Flowers and Antonio Cromartie are certainly in the discussion since the Jets could use stability at a position that has been shaky for them since Darrelle Revis left after the 2012 season. The Jets currently have the fourth-most cap space in the league with roughly $50 million.
Jacksonville: Don't be surprised if the Jaguars make a strong run at Maxwell, too, as they prefer bigger corners and have money to burn. Of the nine corners on their current roster, seven of them stand 6-feet or taller (with three standing over 6-2). Antonio Cromartie is a possibility here as well, as he'd provide a short-term upgrade at a position they could stand improvement. The Jaguars currently have more cap room than any other franchise in the league with roughly $68.5 million.