To say that the 2017 free agent class at cornerback is stacked may not truly be doing it justice. Look at some of the names set to hit the open market: Malcolm Butler (RFA), A.J. Bouye, Trumaine Johnson, Stephon Gilmore, Prince Amukamara, Morris Claiborne, Ross Cockrell and Logan Ryan. All of these players are 28 years old or younger, and thus, any team that signs one or more of these players will want to lock them up for the foreseeable future.
There is a chance that the value of lesser corners in this class will skyrocket because of the contracts players like A.J. Bouye will get. This is a situation that Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens will fear, as they frankly don’t have the cap room to pay big bucks to a corner.
Newsome will also have to decide what he will do with the Ravens’ big time free agents, Brandon Williams and Ricky Wagner. If both players walk, then the Ravens will in fact have the cap room to go get one of these corners. Otherwise, cap gymnastics, and a little bit of luck, will be needed to see one of these top free agent corners end up in Baltimore.
It’s unlikely that the Ravens will make a run at A.J. Bouye or Trumaine Johnson, likely the two who will receive the biggest contracts, but they could instead turn to a player like Stephon Gilmore, Prince Amukamara, or Logan Ryan.
Gilmore will be the most expensive of the bunch, as he is the most talented. Gilmore is one of the top outside corners in the NFL, and could make the Ravens secondary one of the best in the league the minute he steps into Baltimore. Gilmore had five interceptions in the 2016 season (and another one in the Pro Bowl), in addition to 12 passes defended. The South Carolina product’s Pro Bowl invite was well deserved after the great 2016 season he had. The question will not be if Baltimore has an interest in signing Gilmore, instead, the question is, can the team afford him?
Amukamara comes with injury concerns, which obviously is not what the Ravens want in a corner. However, Amukamara is a very talented corner, and he showed it when he was on the field with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past season. Amukamara doesn’t have gaudy numbers, but in large part that can be attributed to him rarely being targeted.
Finally, the Ravens should keep an eye on Logan Ryan. Ryan is very reliable to stay on the field, and has experience playing outside. Yes, Ryan struggled outside this year, and played much better when the Patriots moved him to the slot, but being that Ryan is only 26 years old, he still has time to develop. If the Ravens sign him, they will have to develop his technique on the outside, as Ryan proved this season that he has high potential.
Signing a free agent corner can be safer than looking to the draft. However, it is clearly more expensive. Newsome will have decide whether he wants the safety of knowing exactly what he is getting and paying more for it, or drafting a corner and having know idea what you will get, but spend significantly less money. It’s a decision that Newsome will have to make quickly, because the top corners in this class will likely be pursued by many teams, and it’s likely they will come off the board fast.