The Top-10 cornerbacks the Vikings should pursue in free agency
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Welcome to 'Countdown to Free Agency,' a four-day installment before NFL teams can begin negotiating with other teams' unrestricted free agents on Saturday, March 8. Each installment will look at a key position of need for the Minnesota Vikings and the top prospects that will likely be available when free agency opens on March 11.
Players under contract in 2014: Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Shaun Prater, Robert Steeples. Entering his second year, Rhodes should command one of the starting cornerback spots, with looming holes to fill at the No. 2 cornerback and nickel cornerback roles. Robinson, 23, is young, moldable and could benefit from a new coaching regime, but an immediate difference maker is needed - which should come from a relatively deep cornerback free agent class. Prater, 24, came along when his services were needed late in the season, even grabbing an interception against his former team in Philadelphia.
Pending free agents: Chris Cook, Marcus Sherels (RFA). Sherels' agent Chris Murray called the outlook 'optimistic' at Gophers Pro Day on Monday for the hometown player to return to Minnesota. Cook, 27, initially tweeted a countdown to free agency, presumably indicating that he won't be resigned before the new league year opens March 11. First-year coach Mike Zimmer said simply that he 'shouldn't be tweeting our talk.' Regardless, the 6'2" cornerback is young enough - with enough to prove - that he could still fit in Minnesota as a No. 3 or No. 4 corner.
Off the market: Brent Grimes (resigned)
Top 10 on the market:
1. Alterraun Verner, Tennessee
Why: Verner, 25, played under Vikings' first-year defensive backs coach Jerry Gray when he was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee and should be the team's top priority at cornerback in free agency. Verner grabbed 11 interceptions, including a career-high five picks last season, in four years with the Titans. Though he'll likely be in high demand and look for a high-priced contract out of his rookie deal, the Vikings have adequate cap space to make that happen.
2. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis
Why: Davis, 26 in May, has 13 interceptions in five seasons with both the Colts and Dolphins and batted 11 passes away in what could be his final season in Indianapolis. However, with plenty of cap room (just like Minnesota), the Colts could shell out to keep their No. 1 corner.
3. Sam Shields, Green Bay
Why: Shields, 25, will not have a deal done before free agency hits on March 11, per ESPN.com. Shields played under a restricted free agent tender last season with the Packers and tied his career high with four interceptions in 14 games. The Packers elected not to tag Shields (at an estimated $11 million) and will let him test the market, where the Vikings are one of the most cornerback-needy teams in the league.
4. Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina
Why: Munnerlyn, 26 in April, started for the second-best defense in the league last season in Carolina and is a free agent along with free safety Mike Mitchell and strong safety Quintin Mikell. He's just 5'8", 195lbs, but Munnerlyn grabbed seven interceptions in five seasons with the Panthers, returning five of those for touchdowns (four in the last two seasons). "Undersized," Munnerlyn is a solid fit for the Vikings' slot need as he came away with 73 tackles in the Panthers' dominant defense.
5. Tracy Porter, Oakland
Why: Porter, 28 in August, is the same Tracy Porter that haunted the Vikings in the 2010 NFC Championship game. On a one-year deal in Oakland last season, Porter became the only player in NFL history to return an interception for a touchdown against both Peyton and Eli Manning when he did so against the Giants on Nov. 10. Porter, 5'11", 188lbs, slid into the slot for the Raiders in nickel packages last season and had the third-most tackles (67) among AFC cornerbacks last season.
6. Walter Thurmond III, Seattle
Why: Thurmond, 27 in August, could be the answer in the slot for Minnesota. Thurmond has relatively low mileage, appearing in just 12 games last season for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks since he was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Thurmond was also placed on injured reserve in 2011 with a broken fibula and could be the type of fit Zimmer has said he likes - those players with something to prove.
7. Aqib Talib, New England
Why: Talib, 28, would rank higher based on his skill set, but he could be too old for the Vikings to pay the type of price tag he's commanding. Per the Boston Herald, Talib wants top-of-the-market money, possibly similar to Grimes' four-year, $32 million contract, including $16 million guaranteed that he got in Miami. Talib made the Pro Bowl last season off a one-year deal in New England and even though the Vikings have the available bank roll, there are younger, cheaper players that fit Zimmer's mentality.
8. Tarell Brown, San Francisco
Why: Brown, 29, is ranked as one of the top free agent options by ESPN's free agent tracker after starting for three seasons with the 49ers. Brown had a breakout season in 2011, grabbing a career-high four picks and batting away 11 passes -- but he failed to get his hands on a pick in 13 games last season for the first time since 2007. Despite a lack of turnovers from Brown, the 49ers allowed just 194 passing yards per game last season (4th in NFL).
9. Brandon Browner, Seattle
Why: Browner, 30 in August, was reinstated in time for free agency after an 'indefinite' suspension under the substance abuse policy program causing him to miss the final five games of the 2013 season for the Seahwaks, including the playoffs. Browner will serve a four-game suspension next season, but general manager Rick Spielman has made such deals with players in similar situations like receiver Jerome Simpson and fullback Jerome Felton [though his suspension was not handed down yet]. Browner was in the Canadian Football League until 2010 and has spent the past three seasons in Seattle - there's a definite chip on that shoulder.
10. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver
Why: Rodgers-Cromartie, 28 in April, is a ball hawk having picked off 19 passes in six seasons with the Cardinals, Eagles and Broncos. Rodgers-Cromartie has turned five of those interceptions into touchdowns in his career. He nabbed three picks on a one-year deal in Denver last season and could be a reliable fit for Zimmer in Minnesota as he's missed just four games in his six-year career.