2020 NFL free agent defensive backs: Chris Harris and Byron Jones lead deep group

NFL free agency is less than a month away and soon a massive bidding war is about to begin with various clubs trying to collect as much premium talent as they can in hopes it’ll result in a Lombardi Trophy. As we continue to sift through the various position groups in this free agent class prior to the new league year, the group centered around today’s discussion is in the secondary. 

While the quarterbacks may get the most pump for being a deep class, this crop of defensive backs that are about to hit the open market has some solid depth to it as well, specifically at safety. Not only can you find potential market-setting players at the corner and safety spots, but there’s a solid amount of value out there with a few veterans like Devin McCourty and Chris Harris Jr. possibly shaking loose from their situations. Even beyond that, there are some underrated players that could serve a number of secondaries in the league well in 2020 and beyond. 

Below, we’ll highlight some of the more notable names that are about to hit the market, and then list the best of the rest. 

Pegged as arguably the top cornerback available this offseason, Jones is in position to have himself quite a market, especially if the Dallas Cowboys lose the opportunity of placing the transition tag on him with a new CBA on the horizon. According to CBS Sports’ Patrik Walker, Dallas will not get into a bidding war for Jones’ services, so he could be had at the right price by a rival club. 

The former first round pick was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and still kept his play at an elite level in 2019, serving as one of the better outside corners in the league. He totaled 46 tackles last season with six passes defended and was particularly impressive in press-man coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, his .39 yards per coverage snap in press-man last season was the second lowest in the league. 

Chris Harris Jr. has been with the Broncos for his entire NFL career, but it looks like that may be coming to a close this offseason. With Denver ushering in a new era with second year quarterback Drew Lock along with Harris about to enter unrestricted free agency, it appears like both sides are on the verge of moving on. The Broncos did move Harris to the outside this past season and it didn’t exactly work out in his favor. He finished with 56 tackles, six passes defended and one interception. Really, Harris is better equipped as a slot corner and will likely look to return to that role with whichever team brings him aboard this offseason. According to Spotrac’s projections, Harris’ market value currently has him looking at a potential three-year, $33.3 million contract that’ll give him an AAV of $11 million. 

Josh Norman is looking for a new team after the Washington Redskins elected to release the former Pro Bowl cornerback earlier this offseason. There’s no denying that Norman’s best days are behind him after going through yet another disappointing season in Washington. Coupled with his poor play, the Redskins also cleared about $12.5 million in cap space, so it was essentially a no brainer to cut ties. 

The last two seasons have been particularly rough for Norman, who has turned into a liability in the secondary. Over that span, Pro Football Focus highlights that Norman has allowed 16 receiving touchdowns when targeted. Now, he should be looked at as a veteran depth piece that will likely come at a relative low cost, which is a far cry from a corner who once inked a five-year, $75 million deal.  

Logan Ryan could be left by the wayside with the Titans as Tennessee looks to re-sign both quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry this offseason. While he may be the forgotten one out of Tennessee’s prime free agents, that could prove to be the benefit of another NFL club. While he won’t be mistaken as one of the league’s top corners, Ryan is still a serviceable piece to a professional secondary and was arguably the Titans best cornerback in 2019. He’s manned the slot to a so-so degree, but should be a sought after piece in free agency. Ryan is coming off a three-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Titans back in 2017. 

Bradley Roby bet on himself and took a one-year, $10 million prove-it deal with the Houston Texans last offseason and it appears like it may have worked in his favor. He’s shown to be a pretty versatile corner that can play on the outside and in the slot, which will be valuable to a number of suitors this offseason. For the Texans in 2019, Roby was able to total 38 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass breakups. He did miss six games due to a hamstring, but it’s unlikely that’ll seriously diminish his value on the open market. 

Devin McCourty is certainly closer to the end of his NFL career than he is to the start of it. The longtime Patriots safety has already noted that he plans to play in 2020, but there is a bit of a question as to where that’ll actually be. Conventional thought would suggest a return to the Patriots, but McCourty could be a casualty of the team trying to re-sign Tom Brady and adding weapons around him. That may open the door for another club (potentially with Patriots roots) to swoop in and take the still talented safety. On top of being an exceptional leader and strong locker room presence, McCourty still has fuel in the tank. He’s almost always in perfect position and is coming off a 2019 season where he posted five interceptions, the most he’s tallied since 2012. 

Unlike his former teammate Chris Harris, it appears like both the Denver Broncos and safety Justin Simmons are motivated to keep their relationship going. Simmons made a noticeable leap in 2019 as Pro Football Focus gave him a coverage grade of 91.1 and calculated that he allowed just a 32.1 passer rating when targeted. He also totaled 93 tackles, 15 pass breakups and four interceptions. All that should equate to a sizable contract for the 26-year-old free safety. 

Anthony Harris has enjoyed a strong bump in production over the past two seasons. In that time, the veteran safety has shown the ability to make impact plays in the secondary and totaled six interceptions and eleven pass breakups last season. Pro Football Focus also gave him a 91.6 coverage grade for this past season, the highest among all safeties in the league. He’s only 28-years-old old so given that youth and elite play, Harris is slated to see some serious money. According to Spotrac’s projections, Harris’ market value is somewhere in the range of a five-year deal worth around $69 million.  

Tre Boston is hitting free agency once again, which makes him one of the more underrated players in this market. According to Pro Football Focus’ calculations, he was the fourth highest graded safety with a 90.6 coverage mark. He also had three interceptions and seven pass breakups for the Panthers last year. The 27-year-old has bounced around over the past three seasons playing for the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers, but has been extremely efficient over that stretch. In fact, he was PFF’s highest graded free safety in coverage over that timeframe. Depending on his market, Boston could be a sneaky strong addition to multiple secondaries across the NFL. 

Jimmie Ward had himself a solid 2019 season with the 49ers, which was ideal timing for the soon-to-be free agent. He was able to suit up in 13 regular season games for San Francisco this past season and record an 84.5 coverage grade, which was ninth best at his position, according to PFF. Ward also totaled eight pass breakups and 65 total tackles. A reunion with the 49ers doesn’t appear to be out the question, but Ward’s number will likely be relatively low due to his injury history. In his six-year NFL career, Ward has only been able to play a full 16 games once. 

Best of the rest

James Bradberry (CB) Carolina Panthers 

Jimmy Smith (CB), Baltimore Ravens

Aqib Talib (CB), Miami Dolphins

Tony Jefferson (SS), Baltimore Ravens 

Travis Carrie (CB), Cleveland Browns 

Ronald Darby (CB), Philadelphia Eagles

Trae Waynes (CB), Minnesota Vikings 

Ha Ha Clinton Dix (FS), Chicago Bears 

Tavon Wilson (S), Detroit Lions

Mike Hilton (CB), Pittsburgh Steelers – RFA

Rodney McLeod (FS), Philadelphia Eagles 

Kendall Fuller (CB), Kansas City Chiefs

Vonn Bell (S), New Orleans Saints

Jeff Heath (SS), Dallas Cowboys 

Tramon Williams (CB), Green Bay Packers

Juston Burris (S), Cleveland Browns 

Adrian Phillips (FS), Los Angeles Chargers 

Darqueze Dennard (CB), Cincinnati Bengals

Damarious Randall (FS), Cleveland Browns

Brian Poole (CB), New York Jets

Mackensie Alexander (CB), Minnesota Vikings

Clayton Geathers (FS), Indianapolis Colts  

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