Still no real progress between #Titans and CB Alterraun Verner. Scheduled to hit FA on March 11
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) February 27, 2014
Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner has insisted that he’d like to test the free-agent market and gauge his value. The 25-year-old Pro Bowl cornerback hasn’t dismissed the possibility of returning. Verner teamed with Jason McCourty to form one of the NFL’s best outside cornerback tandems. It’s fair to consider Verner among the NFL’s elite No. 2 cornerbacks, maybe even the best No. 2 cornerback.
Two weeks remain before free agency. The Titans insist they’re not using the franchise tag. Neither party appears close to an agreement. The significantly increased cap space means this team has more money to re-sign him. At the same time, it allows other teams to overpay for him, much like the St. Louis Rams did when they lured Cortland Finnegan away during the 2012 offseason.
Verner adds value to this organization, both on and off the field. In 2012, the Titans re-signed McCourty to a six-year contract. Re-signing Verner to a minimum four-year contract would mean that the Titans would have their premiere cornerback duo under contract through 2017.
Are they willing to pay for that luxury? Verner could demand somewhere around $8-10 million per season. It’s a huge change-up from when this team was trying to demote Verner for their project, Tommie Campbell. Verner responded with a strong preseason, won the starting job, and clinched his first Pro Bowl berth.
There’s no disputing that Verner is one of the top three players on this defense. Losing him wouldn’t doom defensive coordinator Ray Horton‘s first attempt at installing his 3-4 hybrid schemes. The Titans could find a cheaper replacement and have enough leftover money to reinvest toward more important extensions (e.g. Bernard Pollard) and/or free-agent help at offensive tackle or linebacker.
Some foresight has already been taken toward this situation. The Titans have drafted cornerback projects in each of the last three drafts who could give this team the flexibility to promote and move on. Last year’s third-round pick Blidi Wreh-Wilson, nickelback Coty Sensabaugh, and Campbell are all young cornerbacks who’ll try to earn promotions up the depth chart. Sensabaugh has played well and Wreh-Wilson is an unproven talent that the organization has high hopes for. Campbell hasn’t capitalized on any of his three opportunities so it’s hard to expect much out of him.
What if the Titans aren’t satisfied with any of these players replacing Verner? General manager Ruston Webster could use the No. 11 pick toward one of the top two cornerbacks: Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert. Both players are considered as top 10 candidates. Dennard is more of a press coverage cornerback whereas Gilbert is more like Verner in that he has more playmaking potential. He’s faster and will make more interceptions.
Not satisfied? Cornerbacks are expected to run deep throughout the free-agent market. Aqib Talib is another Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback who’ll look for a big payday. Injuries are the one thing that have kept him from earning status as a reliable shutdown cornerback. Talib showcased his talents when he essentially blanketed Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Then Talib got injured and the New England Patriots defense fell apart. His absence made a significant difference.
More affordable, yet still reliable options: Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Dominqiue Rodgers-Cromartie, Sam Shields, Captain Munnerlyn, Tarrell Brown, Walter Thurmond, and Corey Graham. Then there’s a few grizzled veterans including Asante Samuel and Charles Tillman.
So many options could work in Tennessee’s favor toward keeping Verner. A higher supply means that teams won’t have to overpay for one individual asset. It’s not like the last couple of seasons where cornerbacks received huge contracts because it was such a shallow market.
It’s all about prioritizing. Horton coached a top-10 defense in Cleveland. His only star cornerback was Joe Haden. Not having two star cornerbacks…that won’t cripple him. It’s a luxury but not a necessity. What’s more important is that they make sure they’re finding players who can generate a greater pass rush, play better run defense, and improve their coverages against tight ends.