Free agency officially opens tomorrow, giving us a chance to wrap up our series looking at potential free agents who might fit with the Redskins. We’ve already covered wide receivers, defensive line, offensive line, inside linebackers and safeties. The last big need the Redskins have is at cornerback.
Big name: Aqib Talib
Washington flirted with the idea of signing Talib when he was a free agent last year. But thanks to the salary cap penalty imposed on the Redskins, a deal never materialized. Talib re-signed with the Patriots on a one-year deal that allowed him to hit the open market again this year. Washington has plenty of connections to Talib. Both Bruce Allen and Raheem Morris worked with Talib during their Tampa Bay Buccaneer days.
Talib is clearly a top cornerback. He had a strong 2013 campaign with the Patriots and was frequently trusted to cover the opponents’ top receiver, even if that top receiver is a tight end, as it was against the Saints this year.
New Orleans motions Jimmy Graham out wide to run a quick slant. Talib follows him and is left to cover one of the NFL’s best tight ends.
Despite Graham being bigger, Talib plays physically. He attempts to jam Graham at the line of scrimmage getting his hands on Graham’s chest.
Talib stays in front of Graham, taking away the easy throw for quarterback Drew Brees. Brees is forced to throw to Graham’s back shoulder, a significantly harder pass to catch. Talib manages to get his arm in front of Graham and get a hand on the ball to break up the pass.
But Talib wasn’t limited to big, physical receivers. He covered fast deep threats too.
The Falcons are sending Julio Jones on a go route here against Talib.
Talib plays physically again, forcing Jones outside and towards the sideline.
Talib stays inside Jones and gradually shades across him, forcing him even closer to the sideline. That makes Matt Ryan’s throwing window very small. Once Talib has secured the route, he gets his head around and locates the ball.
Once he locates the ball, Talib plays it likes a receiver. He attacks the ball and goes up to get it instead of letting it fall to him. The only thing Jones can do is tackle Talib and not allow him to gain any extra yards on the interception.
Talib is one of the top corners available this offseason, but he also wants to be paid like one. He has plenty of connections to Washington, which has a need at corner. But if another team comes in with a big offer to Talib, it could price the Redskins out of the market.
Good value: Walter Thurmond III
Thurmond is one of the few corners in the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary that is not 6 feet tall. The Seahawks are known for big, physical corners that are all the rage in the NFL right now, but Thurmond managed to win the slot corner role in Seattle without having physical attributes like Richard Sherman. Thurmond excels in the slot and has good instincts as a zone defender.
Here we see Thurmond line up over the slot receiver. The Seahawks are faking a two-deep, man under look, but they are actually in zone. Thurmond is responsible for an underneath zone.
Thurmond gets his hands on the slot receiver to help sell the man-coverage fake. But he keeps his eyes on the quarterback and waits for him to throw to the outside.
Thurmond breaks to the outside and undercuts the route, intercepting the pass and taking it all the way back for a touchdown. It’s an excellent play from Thurmond, in which he baited the throw from the quarterback before pouncing on it and making the most of it.
He’s also displays an awareness of what’s going on around him.
This time Thurmond is in man coverage, covering an out route.
With his route secure, Thurmond gets his eyes on the quarterback and notices he’s looking his way. Thurmond breaks back inside.
He’s able to beat the receiver to the ball and knock it up in the air. He probably should have intercepted it.
But luckily for Thurmond, the ball comes down into the arms of teammate Earl Thomas, who completes the interception. While Thurmond would be disappointed not to get the interception himself, he managed to break up a touchdown pass to a receiver he wasn’t meant to be covering and create a turnover.
Washington does not currently have a slot corner. They tried DeAngelo Hall there, but eventually opted to move him back outside. David Amerson looks unlikely to be moved inside until he proves he can be counted on consistently on the outside. So a young (26), versatile corner could represent some good value for the Redskins.
Under the radar: Captain Munnerlyn
Like Thurmond, Munnerlyn spent a lot of his snaps covering slot receivers. Munnerlyn also excels at blitzing from the slot. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett loves to send his slot corner on a blitz off the edge. Munnerlyn registered three and a half sacks this season, most of any corner in the league.
The Saints bunch a group of receivers tight to the formation. Munnerlyn walks up to the receivers to sell a fake that he’s playing press coverage.
He comes off the edge, but the Saints have a running back in to protect.
Munnerlyn is able to rip through the block attempt from the running back and continue his pursuit of the quarterback.
Brees attempts to step up in the pocket, but Munnerlyn chases him down and gets his hand on the football, nearly knocking it loose.
One of Haslett’s more common blitzes last year was the slot corner blitz. Josh Wilson struggled to get off blocks, so to add a guy who’s showed he can would be a nice addition.
Of course, as a corner, your first duty is to cover receivers. Munnerlyn has his ups and downs (like every corner), but is solid in coverage for the most part.
Here, the Buccaneers line up receiver Vincent Jackson in the slot opposite Munnerlyn. The Panthers are actually in a three-deep, three-under zone coverage, with Munnerlyn responsible for an underneath zone.
But Munnerlyn does a good job being physical with a big receiver like Jackson, attempting to disrupt his route.
Munnerlyn is forced to peel off Jackson once he reaches his zone landmark. But he does a good job turning his head and getting his eyes on the quarterback, who is looking to throw to Jackson on the out route.
Munnerlyn is able to dive and get his hands on the pass to knock it incomplete.
Munnerlyn, at 25, is one of the youngest corners on the market but already has five years experience in the NFL. The blend of experience and upside at a position of need could make for a good signing for the Redskins.
Which cornerback would you like to see the Redskins sign?
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