Looking At the 2014 CB Market & How QBs Might Be Playing a Role In Its Saturation

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The Denver Broncos broke the all-time scoring record this past Sunday on the same day Peyton Manning broke the single-season yardage record. The fact that both previous marks were set in the past six years embodies the NFLs ongoing evolution towards a passing league.

It’s often said that with all of today’s offensive-friendly rules in place the cornerback position is as tough as any to play, and the existence of so few true “shut-down” corners provides evidence for this.

Last offseason, free agent CBs did not at all do well on the open market.  This time around, I count 52 unrestricted free agents that were rostered at some point during this past season (I omitted Brandon Browner, a UFA who will likely be suspended for the 2014 season).

Of these 52 free agents, a whopping 32 of them were also free agents last year; guys who were unable to (or chose not to, in some cases) secure more than 1-year deals on the 2013 open market.

2013 FREE AGENT CB CONTRACTS

PLAYER

2013 TEAM

AGE ON OPENING DAY 2014 2013 PFF CB RANKING
Brent Grimes MIA 31 2
Captain Munnerlyn CAR 26 9
Aqib Talib NE 28 58
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie DEN 28 5
Alterraun Verner TEN 25 12
Walter Thurmond SEA 27 31
Charles Tillman CHI 33 89
Tim Jennings CHI 30 54
Drayton Florence CAR 33 20
Sam Shields GB 26 50

Looking at the top CB free agents from last offseason, no one player received over $10.5 million in guaranteed money. While there were certainly no superstar CBs available last year, the free agent market was tenuous all over; few players hit it big in free agency anywhere, regardless of position.

The reason for this? A lot of this actually has to do with the franchise quarterback.

NFL SALARY CAP BY YEAR

YEAR MAXIMUM SALARY CAP
2014 $126.3 (projected)
2013 $123 million
2012 $120.6 million
2011 $120 million
2010 UNCAPPED
2009 $128 million
2008 $116 million
2007 $109 million
2006 $102 million
2005 $85.5 million
2004 $80.582 million

From 2004-2009, the salary cap rose from $80.582 million-$128 million, a staggering 58.8% increase over that span. Since 2009, the cap has essentially remained stagnant.

Yet despite this stagnant salary cap, the price of a franchise quarterback continues to rise. It’s no coincidence the 6 year/$120,600,000 that Joe Flacco fetched from the Ravens after last year’s Super Bowl was just slightly more in average annual value than the 5 year/$100,000,000 million deal that Drew Brees—the NFLs previously highest paid QB—signed the year before. And shortly after the Flacco deal, Aaron Rodgers signed a 5 year/$110 million extension—an annual average of $22 million

As these quarterbacks continue to show, they hold the negotiating power over their teams, as they should.  Had the Saints let Brees go or the Ravens let Flacco go, neither player would have had a problem securing huge sums of money from another team in free agency.

$20 million of $123 million is over 16%. Because of this truth, many teams are having trouble giving large amounts of guaranteed money to players at other positions.  And while teams who don’t have a QB on the books for close to $20 million may be able to afford to shell out more money for these other positions, teams like the Raiders, Jaguars and Browns now have fewer competitors in these non-QB markets—which they of course know.

2014 NOTABLE FREE AGENT CORNERBACKS

PLAYER

2013 TEAM

AGE ON OPENING DAY 2014 2013 PFF CB RANKING
Brent Grimes MIA 31 2
Captain Munnerlyn CAR 26 9
Aqib Talib NE 28 58
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie DEN 28 5
Alterraun Verner TEN 25 12
Walter Thurmond SEA 27 31
Charles Tillman CHI 33 89
Tim Jennings CHI 30 54
Drayton Florence CAR 33 20
Sam Shields GB 26 50

So back to the CB market. An improved 2014 free agent talent pool as well as what should be a slightly higher 2014 salary cap should lead to an offseason market that’s a bit more player-friendly. 2013 free agents Talib, Rodgers-Cromartie and Grimes all signed 1 year “band-aid” deals this past offseason, and it’s likely that they’ll each get multi-year pacts this time around. However, until there becomes a significant increase in teams’ spending money, I don’t foresee any of these CBs truly hitting it big this winter.

Andrew Cohen
@ajcohen03
ajcohen3@gmail.com