Coming off a season in which the Seattle Seahawks won it all behind an imposing secondary, it wasn't a surprise that a slew of other contenders -- like the New England Patriots (who added Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner), Denver Broncos (T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib) and New Orleans Saints (Jairus Byrd) -- used free agency to stock up on defensive backs. Simultaneously, the reigning Super Bowl champs lost some backfield depth after saying goodbye to cornerbacks Browner and Walter Thurmond.
Of course, the Seahawks are still stacked, with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell primed to pick up where they left off in 2013. But several teams around the NFL have done their best to close the gap. Considering the moves that have marked a busy free agency period, which secondary has the best shot at challenging the "Legion of Boom" as the league's best?
No one can top Seattle's rare collection of talentI don't think any team can rival Seattle's secondary, which has a rare mix of talent at the safety and corner positions. New England has made the most progress, thanks to the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. When you have two good corners, it opens up a lot of possibilities with your coverages and pressure packages. That said, New England doesn't have the safeties to compare with Seattle's.
Denver also has made progress, what with the additions of Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. Ward gives you a hitter down in the box and Talib gives you a quality corner -- provided he can stay healthy. Denver, however, doesn't have the cornerback talent to do what New England has the potential to do, and the Broncos lack the coverage ability at the safety position that Seattle possesses.
Patriots boast top-notch trio, but need another safetyEvery team with a strong secondary is still one player away from legitimately challenging the Seahawks. The Cardinals might be a candidate if they sign Antonio Cromartie and get Tyrann Mathieu back healthy. The Buccaneers would be frisky if they had signed Charles Tillman (who re-upped with the Bears instead) to pair with Alterraun Verner. Even though the Broncos added Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, they lost Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and will have Chris Harris coming off of ACL surgery.
The Patriots will boast an impressive troika in Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty, but they don't have a strong safety to match the 'Hawks' Kam Chancellor. The Saints' safety duo is phenomenal, but New Orleans is awfully shallow at cornerback behind Keenan Lewis. Seattle is still alone atop the mountain.
Saints fall one player short of making this interestingNo team will rival Seattle's secondary. New England is improved, but there's a huge drop-off from Darrelle Revis to the Patriots' next-best cornerback (and from Devin McCourty to the next-best safety). Tampa Bay is similarly thin at cornerback after Alterraun Verner.
The best case can be made for New Orleans, because the Saints' safety tandem of Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro will be special. They also have a good starting cornerback in Keenan Lewis, meaning they're one player away from making this a better debate.
Boost up front will lift BucsSeattle won't be challenged ... but in the name of variety, let's go a little under the radar.
As you might have heard, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dumped Darrelle Revis. In spite of this news, the Bucs still have a very good secondary. Revis might be better than Alterraun Verner, but he's not $10 million better. What's more, the money once allotted to Revis has now been spread to create more balance on new coach Lovie Smith's defense. The Michael Johnson signing ought to mean more pass rush, which -- as you and the Seahawks' secondary both know -- will lighten the burden on the DBs.
Throw in young and talented safety Mark Barron and second-year corner Johnthan Banks (both of whom did their undergraduate training in the SEC) and it's clear that Tampa's back end is well positioned to handle the aerial assaults of NFC South foes New Orleans and Atlanta. Plus, when the Bucs play the receiver-less Panthers, the secondary can take the day off. Which is nice.
Giants significantly improved secondary with two key signingsNo secondary has improved more in the past week than the one coached by Tom Coughlin in New York. The Giants plucked expert nickelback Walter Thurmond from the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, then followed up on Monday by landing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, easily the best remaining cover man on the open market. (Be wary of projectile Rex Ryan brain matter.)
With the ascendant Prince Amukamara already in the fold, the Giants quickly turned a position of weakness into one of strength.