What You Expect is always here to provide you with details when it comes to an NFL-free agent, specifically the defensive backs. Defensive back, whether one of the corner positions or safety, is one of the most difficult positions to play in today’s NFL. We will take a deep dive into the players that will be looking to return home or explore options abroad.
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QB | RB | WR | TE | OLine | DL / EDGE | LB | DB
CJ Gardner-Johnson, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have two of the top players on our list, both picked up via trade. Gardner-Johnson was a standout player for the New Orleans Saints before his preseason trade to Philadelphia. He made the most of the move, netting 67 tackles 6 INTs, and 8 PDs while helping lead an Eagles’ backline that is one of the better units in the league. Gardner-Johnson is a versatile player capable of lining up at safety or playing slot-corner, so he should have plenty of suitors. The Eagles have a lot of key players entering free agency, but I think they find a way to keep Johnson for 2023.
Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles
James Bradberry, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
Bradberry came to the Eagles last season via trade for virtually nothing from the rival Giants. Bradberry is another versatile, reliable defender, who picked opposing QBs off 3 times and broke up another 17 passes at corner. He is 29 and it would not surprise me if the Eagles elected to move on after this season regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl. Maybe he heads back up the turnpike to MetLife for a reunion?
Prediction: New York Giants
Jessie Bates III, S, Cincinnati Bengals
Bates is arguably the best safety available in this year’s free agent market. He is not as heralded as some of his peers, but he is a reliable, healthy, versatile defender. He had another solid season with the Bengals in 2022, garnering 71 tackles, 8 PDs, 4 INTs, and 1 FF. Cincinnati tagged him last offseason and it’s unlikely he gets it again. Owner Mike Brown does not like to spend a lot of money and the Bengals have other pressing matters (lock down Burrow, fix his offensive line, lock down Jamar Chase). Bates will be a standout player wherever he ends up.
Prediction: Detroit Lions
Jamel Dean, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not much went right for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. Their offense could not withstand attrition on their offensive line, and the defense simply could not stop anyone despite boasting athletes all over the field. Jamel Dean was one of the few bright spots. He is a physical, athletic corner who has plenty of room to grow. Dean does not have great ball skills yet, but he is capable of matching up against bigger receivers and holding his own. He is only 26 too, so he should have no trouble finding a home if the Bucs let him leave as a free agent (they won’t).
Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vonn Bell, S, Cincinnati Bengals
Vonn Bell is one of the better all-around safeties in the NFL and one of the leaders of a stout Cincinnati Bengals defense. He has improved in pass coverage and is a really good run defender. Bell finished the 2022 season with 77 tackles, 8 PDs, 4 INTs, and a sack. With Bates likely too expensive for the Bengals to keep, I expect Cincy to find a way to keep Bell from hitting the free agent market, either with the tag or a long-term deal.
Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals
Jordan Poyer, S, Buffalo Bills
What makes Jordan Poyer special is his toughness and willingness to play through pain. The Bills’ safety has been dinged up over the last couple of seasons, but he’s still anchored that secondary. He still managed 63 tackles, 8 PDs, and 4 INTs while missing a chunk of games this season. It’s fair to wonder about his durability at 32, but he’s still a more than solid option. Other teams will consider him as a free agent, but it is hard to imagine in any other uniform besides Buffalo’s.
Prediction: Buffalo Bills
Cam Sutton, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
He might be a surprise to some, but Cameron Sutton was one of the bright spots for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. The 6-year man finished the 2022 season with 3 INTs and 15 PDs, one of the best in the league. A versatile corner and solid tackler, Sutton is a candidate for the franchise tag, but the Steelers may be better off inking him to a longer-term deal to solidify one of their cornerback spots.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers
Jonathan Jones, CB, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots love to let elite All-Pro caliber cornerbacks walk in free agency, just to develop someone else on the roster into a starting caliber player for cheap. Jones replaced J.C. Jackson on the outside and was not too bad despite being undersized for the position. He finished with 69 tackles, 4 INTs, 11 PDs, and 3 FF. Aside from the 2021 season, Jones has also been durable, which should increase his attractiveness. He will turn 30 next season and New England have other pressing needs, so it would not surprise me if he wound up playing elsewhere in 2023.
Prediction: Detroit Lions
Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Oakland Raiders
Rock Ya-Sin would be higher up on this list if he was not coming off of an injury. He is one of only a handful of talented outside corners to hit the market this offseason. Ya-Sin does not get a lot of interceptions, but he is widely regarded as one of the better outside cover corners in the league. The Raiders would be wise to bring him back, but you never know with that franchise. The former Temple alum stabilizes their porous secondary and is a great fit for what Patrick Graham wants to accomplish. At the same time, the Patriots could look to upgrade their back end with a player of Ya-Sin’s caliber.
Prediction: New England Patriots
Patrick Peterson, CB, Minnesota Vikings
Patrick Peterson is turning into the Master Roshii of NFL cornerbacks. There is no other explanation for the 33-year-old to be as effective as he is at playing the position. He was the only defensive back the Vikings put out on the field last year who looked like he knew what he was doing. His 66 tackles, 5 INTs, and 15 PDs were impressive enough that the Vikings should bring back the future Hall of Famer. What else can they possibly do? They are capped out and rebuilding that decimated secondary through the draft will only get them so far.
Prediction: Minnesota Vikings