It's roster-remake season, as NFL teams get ready to overhaul or tweak the personnel formulas upon which their 2018 fortunes hinge. Before free agency and the draft open the transaction floodgates in earnest, let's review the needs of each team at four key positions: running back, receiver, cornerback and quarterback. Who needs a serious upgrade? Who can promote from within? Who can stand pat? And who should be thinking seriously about the long-term future?
Today, Matt Harmon assesses each team's cornerback situation.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals have one of the true shutdown cornerbacks in the league locked into a contract until 2020 in Patrick Peterson. The veteran corner wasn't a ballhawk in 2017, but allowed just 22.6 yards per game and teams only threw his way on 14.2 percent of his coverage plays, per Next Gen Stats. The multi-year issue for Arizona has been across the field from Peterson, as teams routinely picked on the Cardinals' ancillary corners. The team did receive a reprieve when veteran Tramon Williams replaced Justin Bethel. He was quietly excellent, allowing a 44.0 passer rating over his 13 games played. Williams will be 35 this season and is not currently under contract. New head coach Steve Wilks was a defensive backs coach for 11 seasons before taking over as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator in 2017. We can expect him to make multiple additions at this spot.
Buffalo Bills:Tre'Davious White is the lone Buffalo corner who played significant snaps for the team last season set to return for the 2018 campaign. The Bills' first-round pick in 2017, White was excellent as a rookie, allowing just 52.5 percent of the passes sent his way to be completed and picking off four. He is a player the team will build around, while adding complements to fill the other spots. The Bills already took a big step toward upgrading the position by signing two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis. The former Colts corner saw injuries ruin his final season in Indy, but he's played at an extremely high level in the past. Still, Davis will turn 30 this May and is hardly a player to rely on at this stage of his career. The Bills should continue looking for under-the-radar options, assets that Sean McDermott excelled at finding both in his time as Carolina's defensive coordinator and in his first year with Buffalo.
Cleveland Browns: Cleveland's 102.3 passer rating allowed was the worst in the NFL last season. Teams routinely picked on the Browns' pass defense, particularly in the middle of the field, where an archaic scheme left a chasm of space between the deep safeties and line of scrimmage. The team's corners didn't offer much help, either, so expect the Browns to upgrade their back end this offseason. Cleveland did receive strong play from veteran Jason McCourty, who allowed a 79.3 passer rating in coverage. But counting on a 30-year-old with one year left on his contract is far from ideal.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys are expected to trade or release veteran Orlando Scandrick, which would force a pair of second-year players to take a big leap. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis saw playing time in Year 1 to mostly mixed results, as expected for most young players at the position. It's fair for the organization to expect improvement from both corners, considering they were both Day 2 picks. However, a little healthy competition and insurance wouldn't be a bad idea. The Cowboys especially need help on the inside, where they gave up a 105.2 passer rating when targeted out of the slot this year -- fifth-highest in the league.
Detroit Lions: The only established cornerback the Lions have under contract next year is Darius Slay. Of course, that's not so bad when you consider Slay is one of the best players at his position. The All-Pro allowed a paltry 52.4 passer rating in coverage last season and snared eight interceptions. Despite his efforts, the Lions still finished with the 27th-ranked pass defense. With D.J. Hayden and Nevin Lawson set to hit free agency, Detroit is likely to hand over a promotion to its second-round pick from a year ago, Jalen "Teez" Tabor. The young defender clearly has fans in the building, after going 53rd overall, but the team will need more options at the position.
Green Bay Packers: Green Bay's cornerbacks struggled mightily in 2017, allowing a 106.2 passer rating on throws where they were the nearest defender, per Next Gen Stats. The team is young at the position, with Kevin King, Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall under contract for next year -- all are 25 years old or younger. King comes with the most optimism regarding his future, after getting his feet wet in his rookie season. He profiles as the type of big press-coverage corner the league is obsessed with these days. Randall will enter his fourth season in 2018 and has yet to play at a high level on a consistent basis, but he did improve last year. No matter how you slice it, Green Bay needs to add more capable bodies in the secondary.
Houston Texans: The Texans made a mistake holding onto Johnathan Joseph and letting A.J. Bouye walk after Bouye's breakout 2016 season. Joseph was mostly a liability, allowing more than 16 yards per catch in 2017, while Bouye went on to perform like one of the best cover players in the league with the division-rival Jaguars. Kareem Jackson and Kevin Johnson will return next season, but neither has emerged as the caliber of player the organization hoped when it invested first-round picks to nab each. Houston is flush with cap space, according to Over the Cap, and could be a buyer in the free-agent cornerback market for players like Malcolm Butler or Rashaan Melvin.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts ranked 27th and 28th against the pass in the last two seasons. Indianapolis got somewhat of a breakout season from Rashaan Melvin in 2017, as he allowed a 66.8 passer rating when targeted. He bounced around the league before landing in Indy, and it appears the team brass is willing to let him test the market this offseason. If he walks, Quincy Wilson is the most likely candidate on the roster to become the team's No. 1 corner. Indy's second-round pick in 2017, Wilson started five games as a rookie. Whether it's via trade, free agency or the draft, the Colts have to explore all options for improving at the position.
Kansas City Chiefs:By trading Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams, the Chiefs signaled the start of a new era in their secondary. Peters was incredible during the stretch run and allowed a 52.7 completion percentage during the entirety of last season. He's a big loss for the team, despite whatever possible issues the organization had with him off the field. Kansas City has already made two offseason additions in the secondary to prepare for Peters' departure. The first, acquiring Kendall Fuller from Washington in the deal for Alex Smith, should prove to be a big boost. Fuller, who can play outside and inside, gave up a 67.5 passer rating when he was the nearest defender in 2017. The second transaction, signing Raiders castoff David Amerson, comes with a far wider range of outcomes. Kansas City must believe Amerson will be a better fit in its press-man-heavy scheme, but he was a liability in his six games with Oakland last year, allowing almost 70 percent of the throws sent his way to be completed, for 22.1 yards per reception. Expect the Chiefs to add at least one more player at the position, potentially with one of their three Day 2 draft picks.
New England Patriots: The Patriots made their decision on the top of their cornerback depth chart by handing out a big deal to Stephon Gilmore last offseason and eschewing offering an extension to Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler. Gilmore started out a little slow, but eventually became the clear-cut No. 1 corner New England hoped for by the end of the year. He allowed a 73.1 passer rating in coverage. Butler, on the other hand, struggled in 2017 -- even before his Super Bowl benching. Butler surrendered seven touchdowns in coverage and a 91.6 passer rating. He's expected to move on in free agency, leaving the Patriots nearly barren behind Gilmore, with the inconsistent Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones. The only other player with any real experience is 2016 second-rounder Cyrus Jones, who has been dog-walked up and down the field when given playing time in the past.
New York Jets: The Jets looked like they had a hit on their hands in 2017 free-agent addition Morris Claiborne, but then the familiar specter of injuries struck the corner. The former No. 6 overall pick of the Dallas Cowboys was playing the best football of his career before a foot injury hit him. He wasn't the same the rest of the way. Nevertheless, Claiborne held up reasonably well by allowing a 56.4 percent completion rate on a whopping 149 targets. New York will need to make a decision on whether to retain Claiborne or let him walk in free agency. If he goes, that will leave behind Buster Skrine, Darryl Roberts and a host of inexperienced players. We saw the Jets attack the safety position with multiple early draft picks last year, and they could do the same at the corner position at the end of April.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders finished 26th, 24th and 26th against the pass in Jack Del Rio's three years as head coach. So, yes, it might be time for some real upgrades on the perimeter. The team was especially poor at defending the deep ball this past year, giving up the worst passer rating (127.1) against throws that traveled 20-plus yards in the air. We might see them finally move away from a series of oversized corners that were routinely beat deep down the field. Oakland already cut ties with David Amerson and will take a look at Sean Smith's $8.5 million cap hit next. T.J. Carrie will hit free agency, which could leave just 2017 rookie Gareon Conley on the roster for 2018. Conley played in just two games after injuries ruined his rookie season. Cornerback is arguably Oakland's biggest need this offseason.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are often connected with big names at the offensive skill positions, as the NFL masses are hungry to see them build an enviable arsenal around their new franchise quarterback. However, their biggest need lies in the secondary, where they don't currently employ any high-end starters. Ahkello Witherspoon (90.7) and Dontae Johnson (95.9) started the most games and gave up high passer ratings when they were the nearest defender last season. Expect San Francisco to consider allocating some of its beefy cap room to lure a free-agent cornerback and to potentially draft a starter.
Seattle Seahawks:Richard Sherman was lost for the season with a torn Achilles in the second half of the 2018 campaign, but was playing at a high level when he went down. In a cost-saving move ahead of free agency, the team released the former Day 3 draft pick who became a face of the franchise. Sherman himself indicated that a possible return is in the cards if he doesn't receive another offer he likes on the open market. Nevertheless, Seattle must approach this offseason as a chance to begin rebuilding their cornerback depth chart. The Seahawks did appear to hit on Shaquill Griffin in the third round of last year's draft. Quarterbacks posted a 72.6 passer rating on throws where the rookie was the nearest defender. While he's a building-block player, the team will certainly need to supplement his efforts as the secondary heads into a transitioning phase.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers' pass defense has regressed the past three seasons, falling from 16th to 22nd before dropping to dead last in 2018. It's a unit crying for a wave of new talent. Their top cornerback over the last two seasons was Brent Grimes, who surprisingly played extremely well for them despite washing out in Miami. But he's set to hit free agency this offseason and will turn 35 in July. If he returns, the Bucs should still stock the cupboard with talented young options. Despite being a first-round selection just two years ago, Vernon Hargreaves has been a massive weak link to this point in his career. He played nine games last year, and quarterbacks registered a 101.2 passer rating when throwing in his direction. Expect Tampa Bay to go hard in improving this group over the next eight weeks.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans made two big moves (signing Logan Ryan in free agency and drafting Adoree' Jackson) to fix their cornerback room last offseason, so expect more modest upgrades here in 2018. However, Ryan and Jackson didn't do enough in 2017 for the team to simply ignore the position going forward. Ryan was a bit of a disappointment in his first year outside of New England, but he could rebound with Mike Vrabel revamping Tennessee's defense. Jackson was picked on at times as rookie, allowing seven scores, but flashed enough for the team to roll with him as a starter. The Titans feel like a team that is one more cornerback away from having a secondary closer to the top 15 in the league than what they fielded in 2017.
PROMOTE FROM WITHIN
Denver Broncos: The Denver Broncos have long had one of the best secondaries in the NFL, with a top-three cornerback rotation that's tough to match. Yet, their time in the sun may be coming to an end, as top outside corner Aqib Talibis headed to Los Angeles for a fifth-round pick. The veteran was set to eat up $12 million in cap space, and the Broncos need every penny available in their pursuit of a free-agent passer. With Talib is gone, the Broncos can rest easy with Chris Harris and Bradley Roby in tow as starters. Roby is due for a promotion as he enters the final year of his rookie contract after allowing a 70.7 passer rating in coverage last season. Still, the depth on the roster is not as strong as it was in years past. It won't be at the top of the priority list, but expect Denver to add bodies at cornerback.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles swung an excellent trade to bolster a 2017 preseason weakness in acquiring Ronald Darby from the Bills. Darby missed a portion of the year with an injury, but allowed a mere 61.8 passer rating and snared three picks when he returned to action. He'll be back on a modest salary for his contract year in 2018. The Eagles will likely lose the services of Patrick Robinson, who surprisingly shined in the slot last season after signing a one-year deal. Philadelphia has three young players to help form a core to build around Darby next season in Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones. All will be 23 or younger heading into 2018. Mills has the most experience of the group and, while he was the weak link in a strong Eagles secondary (nine touchdowns allowed), he wasn't detrimental enough to derail their defensive excellence. Douglas got playing time as a rookie, while Jones took a mostly-planned redshirt season.
STAY THE COURSE
Atlanta Falcons: Top cornerback Desmond Trufant didn't have his best season in 2017, but the former first-round pick has the pedigree to suggest he can bounce back in 2018. No. 2 cornerback Robert Alford gets tested far more often (96 targets to Trufant's 59), but allowed a lower completion rate, yards-per-target figure and touchdown rate than his counterpart. The Falcons can feel good walking into 2018 with this duo as their starting outside corners. The only small area of concern is on the inside, with former undrafted free agent Brian Poole at slot corner. The Falcons gave up a 108.3 passer rating on throws to slot receivers this past season, the third-highest mark among all defenses. Poole was far better in the stretch run of his rookie season in 2016, so the team may only add minor competition for him.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are currently allocating about $30 million in cap space to their cornerback room and, by and large, had a good secondary in 2017, allowing the eighth-fewest passing yards per game. The biggest catalyst for their success might have also been their biggest surprise. William Jackson was statistically the best cornerback in the league last year by essentially any objective measure. The 2016 first-round pick allowed the lowest passer rating in coverage (31.1) at the position and gave up just 14 catches on 49 targets. Jackson missed all of his rookie year with an injury, but looked the part of a lockdown corner as soon as he took the field this season. Cincinnati also has former first-round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard locked into deals for 2018, with the latter in the final year of his rookie contract. With these three in place and all coming off strong campaigns, the Bengals could finally pull the plug on the Adam Jones era, slashing the 34-year-old's $6.4 million off the books.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The cornerback situation from the 2017 season was enough to turn any other team green with envy. Jacksonville allowed the fewest passing yards in the league, with its corners being a significant reason for the team's exceptional turnaround. A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey gave up 33.8 and 57.2 passer ratings in coverage, respectively, making it a near impossibility for teams to move the ball through the air against the Jags' defense. Even slot cornerback Aaron Colvin proved to be an above-average player on the interior. Colvin is set to hit free agency, which could cause the team to invest a draft pick to replace his services at slot corner.
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers have arguably one of the best cornerback situations heading into the offseason. Casey Hayward is one of the five best cornerbacks in the league and has emerged as a true shutdown defender since joining the team in free agency. However, the Chargers saw another excellent player emerge opposite him in 2016 in undrafted free agent Trevor Williams. Taking over the starting gig in Week 2 after Jason Verrett went down for the season (knee), Williams let quarterbacks complete just 45.6 percent of the throws sent into his coverage. Los Angeles even got decent play from their rookie slot corner, Desmond King. All three members of this trio will be back on the roster for the 2018 season, and so will Verrett. After playing just five games over the last two seasons, the 2014 first-rounder is no longer a player the Bolts can count on. But with the cornerback cupboard stocked, they can afford to hold out hope he returns to form to add a little gravy to their plate.
Los Angeles Rams: The 2017 NFC West champions made a move to acquire a player they believe will help take their defense to a new level in cornerback Marcus Peters. Since being drafted by the Chiefs in 2015, no player has more interceptions (19) or passes defensed (55) than Peters. The ballhawking corner is a sublime fit for Wade Phillips' heavy-pressure defense and will cause quarterbacks to think twice when testing his side of the field. As long as the Rams can live with whatever issues saw Peters wear out his welcome in Kansas City, their top corner spot is set for the next two seasons, at least. Rams GM Les Snead wasn't done revamping the position group, however, and swung a deal with the Denver Broncos to acquire Aqib Talib for a mere fifth-round pick. Talib was still an effective man cover corner last year, holding opposing passers to a 47.8 percent completion rate when throwing into his coverage. The arrivals of Peters and Talib essentially guarantees Trumaine Johnson, who played under the franchise tag in 2017, will be elsewhere next season. Snead can now turn his attention to locking up slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, who just had a career year for the team. Regardless of whether he's brought back or not, the Rams look to field one of the best pass defenses in the NFL this coming season.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have a litany of needs on their roster and, as of now, don't have the cap space to fill all of them. As such, they're going to have to see the fruits of their previous years' acquisitions come to fruition and stay the course on some areas of the team. The cornerback corps is an ideal spot to do so. Miami saw their 2016 second-round pick Xavien Howard break out in his second season. The physical CB allowed a 65.3 passer rating and 51.8 percent completion rate in coverage this past season and got better as the year went on. It was the picture-perfect season of progress for a young player. Soon after Byron Maxwell was shown the door, the team elevated rookie Cordrea Tankersley to the starting lineup to mixed results. The third-round pick gave up a 99.2 passer rating in coverage but showed some signs of being a future starter. The Dolphins have this duo and Bobby McCain under contract on cheap deals in 2018. Going forward with them will be a pure bet on youth, but it will look like a savvy strategy if Howard continues to grow into a lockdown role.
Minnesota Vikings: Mike Zimmer's defense finished as the No. 1 unit in the NFL last season and was excellent at all three levels. The secondary has long been Zimmer's point of pride and is stocked full of successful draft picks courtesy of general manager Rick Spielman. Xavier Rhodes is the headliner and enjoyed another strong season in 2017. He's more than capable of tracking top receivers around the field and has an argument to wear the crown of the best corner in the NFL. Opposing teams spent the early part of the year picking on Trae Waynes in the deep game, but the former first-round pick stabilized his play as the year went on. Waynes gave up a 55.9 percent completion rate when thrown at this year. The Vikings' only decision to make in the offseason will come at their slot corner position. Minnesota could bring back Zimmer favorite Terence Newman for his seemingly 100th NFL season, or they could elect to pass the torch to 2016 second-rounder Mackensie Alexander. The former Clemson defender was picked on at times in the postseason, and Newman has expressed interest in returning for another Super Bowl run.
New Orleans Saints: The New Orleans Saints acquired a true game-changing talent in Marshon Lattimore with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The rookie was an immediate lockdown threat and allowed a 48.1 passer rating in coverage, one of the lowest in the NFL last season. The Defensive Rookie of the Year tracked some of the best receivers in the game across the field, proving he can be a top shadow corner. It would be unwise to overlook his running mate, Ken Crawley. The 2016 undrafted free agent emerged as a strong starter in 2017, allowing just 44.6 percent of the throws sent his way to be caught. New Orleans could possibly look to upgrade the slot corner position after allowing the seventh-most (941) yards last year, but they should be fine with P.J. Williams in the slot for another season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers revived Joe Haden's career last season, as the one-time first-round selection had his best campaign in years after leaving Cleveland. He fractured a fibula midseason, but didn't miss much time or have surgery. Although he'll account for about $12 million against the cap, he provided such a strong presence in his first season in Pittsburgh that he should be back. The Steelers also got breakout seasons from two young players -- one they were hoping for and one that was a bit more unexpected. Former first-rounder Artie Burns took a major step forward, allowing just 48.1 percent of the passes thrown into his coverage to be completed. Slot corner Mike Hilton was more of a surprise, but no less pleasant. Hilton allowed a 67.7 passer rating in coverage and was promptly rewarded with a contract extension in January.
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
Baltimore Ravens: On paper, the Ravens are in an ideal spot at the cornerback position with one of the best players at the position (Jimmy Smith), a 2017 rookie (Marlon Humphrey) coming off a strong season, several veterans (Brandon Carr, Lardarius Webb) and a talented third-year player (Tavon Young) all under contract for next season. Of course, things aren't always as they appear, and the Ravens' depth chart contains some complications. Smith is as good as any corner in the game when he's on the field, but his 2017 season ended after he was carted off the field with a torn Achilles tendon. He's played a full 16 games in just two of his last five seasons. Humphrey looked like a future longtime starter as a rookie, allowing a paltry 53.2 passer rating in coverage after going 16th overall in the NFL draft. Carr played well in spurts, but could see the rest of his four-year contract wiped off the books to provide cap relief. Young was a surprise 11-game starter as a fourth-round rookie in 2016, but missed all of last year after tearing his ACL in OTAs. The Ravens have a few decisions to make before they know for sure how their 2018 cornerbacks corps will shake out.
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers, who have two young starters at the position in Daryl Worley and James Bradberry, ended the year getting thumped by opposing wide receivers. Carolina gave up 209 catches to wideouts in 2017, trailing only Tampa Bay's 220 allowed. Bradberry allowed a low catch rate (52.5 percent) and passer rating (79.3) in coverage last year, but saw his play slip as the year went on. He and Worley just haven't both been "on" at the same time to this point in their careers. It would be a stretch to call either a No. 1 corner right now. Veteran slot corner Captain Munnerlyn is on his second stint with the team, but it's troubling that Carolina was at its worst when covering the slot last year. Their 1,018 yards allowed to slot receivers was the fourth-highest in the league, and 67.5 percent of their total receptions allowed to wide receivers came out of the slot. GM Marty Hurney should at least consider whether this trio is strong enough to roll out unchallenged for yet another season, though Bradberry and Worley are young enough to hold out hope for.
Chicago Bears: The Bears' top two cornerbacks from last season are set to hit free agency in the coming weeks. Kyle Fuller could still get the franchise tag, after offering up a career year after the Bears declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. (UPDATE: On Tuesday, the Bears placed the transition tag on Fuller.) Injuries and inconsistency haunted his game in previous years, but he allowed a 45.9 completion percentage on passes thrown into his coverage in 2017. Fuller is still just 26 years old and could earn a king's ransom this offseason, either by Chicago or another team. Fellow 2017 starter Prince Amukamara is set to hit free agency for the third straight offseason after a solid campaign. The Bears have plenty of cap space to retain both, but will have to retool this position if they lose their services.
New York Giants: The Giants could conceivably slash Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple from the books this offseason after already deciding to move Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to safety. We should never count out new GM Dave Gettleman from taking a blowtorch to an entire position group like that. Moving on from any or both of their corners wouldn't be shocking, either, considering all of them proved to be some sort of headache off and on the field in 2017. Jenkins wasn't as good in his second season with the team, but played better than Apple (56.1 completion rate vs. 60.3). He'd also be the most expensive to keep. The Giants must decide whether they can rebuild this once-strong unit now that loathed coach Ben McAdoo is out of the mix or if splitting up the band to send a message is the best path.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins have already telegraphed this offseason that their plan for the future involves change. Desperately needing a starting quarterback after bungling the Kirk Cousins situation, Washington had to sacrifice a top young slot corner in Kendall Fuller to acquire Alex Smith. The move left the 'Skins in a bit of a bind on the perimeter. Washington looks primed to lose Bashaud Breeland in free agency. Somewhat of an unknown name, Breeland is underrated and allowed just 47.8 percent of the targets against him to be caught in 2017. Veteran Josh Norman looks like he'll be back despite a hefty $16.9 million cap hit, but he's now in his 30s, coming off a down year while dealing with injuries. Expect the Redskins to look hard at young players in the draft as they seek to complement a high-end pass rush with more options in the back end.