The 2022 NFL free agency market at the cornerback position is intriguing, and Darious Williams is one of the most interesting options available. Currently ranked 21st on PFN’s Top 75 Free Agents, Williams is coming off a mixed season last year. Let’s take a look at Williams’ potential market, some predictions, and where his landing spots might be in 2022.
Predictions for free agent Darious Williams
Williams has made fantastic progress from being an undrafted free agent in 2018. He started a combined three games in his first two seasons but has started 23 across 2020 and 2021 combined. His coverage numbers took a dip in 2021, but he stepped up as a tackler, with 71 tackles, including 3 tackles for loss last season.
Heading into last season, Williams was viewed as the potential top cornerback on the market. However, according to Spotrac, Williams’ market value now sits closer to $14.5 million per year than it does to the top of the list of highest-paid cornerbacks at $20 million a year. Still, the cornerback position is highly valued, and Williams is one of the best three young options available at the position this offseason.
Williams’ best landing spots
There should be no shortage of interest for Williams this offseason. Nearly every team in the league needs a cornerback, and therefore, all of the available defensive backs should have a strong market. The intriguing element will be seeing how the market plays out.
Does it run top-down with the likes of J.C. Jackson and Carlton Davis being the first dominoes to fall? Or do we see the mid-tier options coming off the board first? Where does Williams sit in that instance?
The Bengals have needs on both the offensive and defensive lines, but cornerback should not be overlooked. Eli Apple is a free agent, and Chidobe Awuzie was unconvincing at times. Therefore, Cincinnati needs to look at targeting a CB1 option this offseason. They have Mike Hilton, but they need more top-end talent and depth.
The Bengals are in an enviable position. They have the rare combination of coming off a Super Bowl appearance with cap space to spare. Usually, after a Super Bowl run, teams lose a number of key free agents and have to scramble. That’s not the case for the Bengals, who have the resources to address multiple needs this offseason.
The way the Broncos have built this roster and the trade for Russell Wilson demonstrates how this team is all-in on the 2022 season. Cornerback might not seem like their most pressing need on defense, but there’s an opportunity to put together a formidable pairing for the long-term.
Patrick Surtain II is entering his second season, and a combination of him and Williams would be fascinating. The wonderful thing is that both are young players, playing at a high level. Therefore, making this addition now could help the Broncos challenge in 2022 and beyond.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers needed to address multiple layers of their defense this offseason. Trading for Khalil Mack was the first step, and now cornerback comes into sharp focus. The potential departure of Chris Harris Jr. is a major one, and it leaves the Chargers’ secondary low on experience.
Williams is relatively youthful but has been a starting CB on a Super Bowl-winning team, which brings a lot of experience to the table. From Williams’ perspective, this move would allow him to stay in the place he has called home since 2018.
New England Patriots
New England is seemingly about to lose Jackson, who is pressing for a $20 million per year contract. The Patriots’ salary cap situation is such that they might not be able to go toe to toe with some of the other teams that might be in for Jackson. However, there is an almost equally good option that could come at around a 33% discount based on projected market values.
This time last year, Williams and Jackson were both restricted free agents. Of the two, Williams was offered the higher tender. A year later, Williams’ projected value is 66% of that currently being projected to Jackson. We’ve seen the Patriots value high-end cornerback play, and Williams could give them that at a cost-controlled price.
The Steelers’ situation at CB is looking somewhat perilous. Joe Haden is a free agent, and there’s no clear replacement for his role on the roster. Therefore, they need to look at adding a veteran this offseason. With the offense in flux and the pass rush having one solid piece and a question mark in Alex Highsmith, they should consider a serious investment.
Williams would very much be that serious investment. He would come in as the clear No. 1 on a defense that prides itself on playing tough. Pittsburgh has the cap space to go shopping for a top-tier cornerback, although they may initially prioritize their offensive line and quarterback situation.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another team that is set to lose a cornerback option is the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay dealt with injuries at the position last year and knows the importance of having three top corners.
Williams would make a fantastic trio with Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting. The cost will be key here, because if Williams’ market settles close to that of Carlton Davis, Tampa may prioritize bringing Davis back over adding a new face in Williams.