We are now just days away from the unofficial start of free agency where the NFL will enter into the legal tampering period. That juncture will allow clubs to talk contract terms with soon-to-be free agents and agree to the parameters of a deal leading up to the start of the new league year on March 15. Of course, this is a major period on the NFL calendar when it comes to roster building as some of the more notable names across the league could be on the move.
This year, the defensive back market has plenty of names entering free agency and we could very well see some big contracts be thrown around by teams to try and land them. Below, we'll dive into the top five free agents at both the cornerback and safety positions this offseason.
Top free agent cornerbacks
1. James Bradberry, 29, (Philadelphia Eagles)
Bradberry was one of the key offseason additions for Philadelphia last offseason that helped propel them to a Super Bowl appearance. In 2022, he put together a second-team All-Pro season where he started all 17 regular season games and led the Eagles with 17 pass breakups. he also had three interceptions and 44 total tackles. When targeting Bradberry, opposing quarterbacks completed just 45.3% of their passes and registered a 51.6 passer rating.
Given that he'll be 30 by the time the 2023 season rolls along, that could diminish his market a tad, but he's shown that he can be an extremely valuable piece to a secondary.
Projected AAV: $15.1 million, 10th among CBs (via Spotrac)
2. Jamel Dean, 26, (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Dean turned out to be quite the find for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He helped the franchise win Super Bowl LV, but with the Bucs current cap situation, they may be priced out of trying to retain Dean. With Dean only 26 years old, he should warrant a lucrative contract on the open market.
Last season, Dean started in all 15 of his games played for Tampa Bay and had eight pass breakups to go with two interceptions. He's also routinely been a headache for opposing quarterbacks. The Auburn product allowed just 55.4% of the throws against him to be completed.
Projected AAV: $16.5 million, 9th among CBs (via Spotrac)
3. Cameron Sutton, 28, (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Similar to Dean, Sutton is a young corner hitting the market at the perfect time. He's also coming off the most productive season of his career, notching a career-high 15 pass breakups and three interceptions in 2022. Not only that, but quarterbacks completed just 47.9% of their passes against Sutton in coverage and boasted a measly 65.3 passer rating. If teams buy into Sutton as an ascending player and that what we saw last year from him will be more of the norm, he could get paid handsomely.
Projected AAV: $7.6 million, 30th among CBs (via Spotrac)
4. Byron Murphy, 25, (Arizona Cardinals)
Murphy did himself a bit of a favor in 2022 by showing that he can play on the outside, adding some versatility to his game that had previously been headlined for his ability in the slot. However, the former second-round pick in 2019 had had an up-and-down career, including during the 2022 campaign. He missed eight games with a back injury and allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a 103.1 passer rating against him. That said, young corners are hard to come by on the open market and Murphy was able to play and start in 16 games in 2021 where he held QBs to an 87.6 passer rating. If teams are getting the 2021 version of Murphy, he should be a sought-after free agent.
5. Jonathan Jones, 29, (New England Patriots)
Jones has been one of the better slot cornerbacks in the NFL and, in a similar vein to Murphy above, saw more reps on the outside in 2022. New England has reportedly indicated that they'd like to retain Jones, so it will be interesting to see if the Patriots allow him to test the free-agent waters and then possibly try to match whatever he fetches. Jones is coming off a season where he logged a career-best 11 pass breakups and four interceptions while totaling 69 tackles.
Projected AAV: $12.4 million, 17th among CBs (via Spotrac)
Other FA cornerbacks of note
Top free agent safeties
1. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, 25, (Philadelphia Eagles)
Gardner-Johnson is a bit of a hybrid that played at safety and in the slot for Philadelphia and was one of the more impactful players in that secondary in 2022. In 12 games played during the regular season, he had six interceptions and eight pass breakups to go along with 67 tackles. When targeted, opposing quarterbacks had a 78.4 passer rating against Gardner-Johnson. At just 25, he'll arguably be the top defensive back on the free agent market.
Projected AAV: $13.3 million (via Spotrac)
2. Jessie Bates III, 26, (Cincinnati Bengals)
After being hit with the franchise tag last offseason, Jessie Bates III is finally hitting the open market. Over the last few seasons, the safety has been a key piece to a Cincinnati defense that has been making deep postseason runs, including to Super Bowl LVI. Bates was a second-team All-Pro safety back in 2020 and was able to return to form this past season after a 2021 campaign that was a bit rocky. In 16 games played in 2022, he broke up eight passes, notched a career-high four interceptions, and quarterbacks completed only 51.4% of their throws when targeting Bates in coverage.
Projected AAV: $14 million (via Spotrac)
3. Jordan Poyer, 32, (Buffalo Bills)
Poyer has been a valuable piece to the back end of Buffalo's secondary alongside Micah Hyde, but the 31-year-old could be looking for one last major payday on the open market. He was a first-team All-Pro safety in 2021 and followed that up with a Pro Bowl campaign in 2022 where he had 63 tackles, eight pass breakups, and four interceptions in 12 regular season games. Already, Poyer has suggested that he may land elsewhere in free agency, mentioning the Miami Dolphins as a possible destination.
Projected AAV: $11 million (via Spotrac)
4. Vonn Bell, 29, (Cincinnati Bengals)
Vonn Bell is wrapping up the three-year, $18 million deal he signed with the Bengals back in 2020 and is looking to cash in on the free-agent market once again. He'll be just 28 years old by the time 2023 kicks off and has been an extremely durable piece during his time in Cincinnati. Over that three year-stretch, he's played at least 95% of the defensive snaps, including last year where he was on the field for 99% of the defensive snaps. When on the field, Bell boasted 77 total tackles last season to go along with eight pass breakups and a career-high four interceptions.
Projected AAV: $9.7 million (via Spotrac)
5. Jimmie Ward, 32, (San Francisco 49ers)
Jimmie Ward was moved to slot corner with the 49ers in 2022 and is looking to get back to his more familiar free safety position wherever he lands for 2023. Ward has been with San Francisco for his entire career to this point after the club selected him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Northern Illinois, and if the Niners brass continues to look at him as a slot corner that could mean he departs in free agency. Last year, quarterbacks completed 73.2% of their passes against Ward, which was the most he's allowed in his career thus far. However, the 87.4 passer rating allowed was respectable.
Projected AAV: $7.6 million (via Spotrac)