This year’s NFL free agent cornerback class is headlined by familiar names but ones also entering their age-30 season. It’s best to avoid giving playmakers at this age a long-term deal, as the difference in athleticism can be massive as they age. Targeting players around 27 can lead to more free agent success if the right fit is in place.
One of the top overall players and top corner on the market is Jamel Dean. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ corner should cash in despite being more of a Cover 3 corner who gets shaded help from linebackers and safeties. Dean’s come a long way from his first two years in college, where he said his career was in jeopardy due to injuries:
“Back in my first two years of college, that was probably the darkest days of my life. I had two surgeries going into college, went to Ohio State and they told me that there was no hope for my football career because of how my knees are set up. Hearing that at a young age, I thought, ‘This is it?'”
His remarkable drive and perseverance have him on the verge of cashing on after a solid four years in Tampa Bay. Let’s dive into Dean’s free agency predictions.
Jamel Dean Free Agency Predictions
Cincinnati Bengals Upgrade CB2 Position With Dean
The Bengals were able to get the most they possibly could out of the Eli Apple experience, developing a defense that mitigated his weaknesses. But with Apple hitting free agency, the Bengals could replace him with Dean and pair him with Chidobe Awuzie. Like Dean, Awuzie is underrated in the public’s eye because neither forces turnovers at a high rate.
The difference between Dean and Apple is significant. Dean ranked fifth in target separation, 24th in yards allowed, 10th in yards per reception allowed, and 16th in passer rating allowed. The most notable difference is Apple ranked 70 spots lower in yards per reception and allowed 184 yards more on only two more receptions.
There’s certainly a price difference between the two. Apple only earned $3.5 million in 2022, and Dean’s next deal could be more than $10 million annually. Cincinnati, who has to account for extensions for Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins in coming years, may be unwilling to spend on a veteran CB.
The benefit would be having two near-elite cover corners for defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. We saw Apple get tortured when it mattered most over the last two playoffs, and unless this team is willing to throw a rookie into a starting role, there’s a major incentive in signing a sure thing in Dean.
Detroit Lions Address Massive Hole at CB
For the Lions to get into the playoffs in 2023, they can’t ignore the weakness of their defense. The unit was 28th in scoring and 32nd in yards allowed. Though young cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs showed growth at various points of the season, Okudah was also benched toward the end of the year, and Jacobs has a limited résumé.
Adding Dean to the mix would elevate the floor of a unit that has struggled with injuries and consistency. The Lions would have three corners that allowed less than 60% of targets to be completed, with Dean and Jacobs each under 55.5%. This would be money well spent, considering the bulk of Detroit’s veteran spending has been on the offensive side in recent years.
A three-man rotation led by Dean would be complemented by young but serviceable safeties in DeShon Elliott and Kerby Joseph. Signing one stud CB suddenly shores up the back end and will allow the team to focus on improving the front seven in the draft.
Detroit has the right infrastructure to get the most out of Dean, plus Jacobs and Okudah are theoretically versatile enough to slide into the slot.
New York Giants Reinforce CB Depth With Dean
The Giants already have one good cornerback in Adoree’ Jackson, but he missed seven games with a knee injury last year. With Aaron Robinson looking better suited for the slot and Cor’Dale Flott being a young option who can continue developing as a rotational player, it makes sense the Giants would add Dean. New York needs high-end corners to compete with the top playmakers within the NFC East.
The fit with Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is a little concerning, considering who he’s coached before. Martindale wants active corners in run defense and doesn’t protect them with a ton of zone help. Dean is similar to the Ravens’ Marcus Peters as a risk-taker who isn’t overly concerned with helping in the run game.
Nevertheless, Dean is effective when he sticks his nose in run gaps. In 2022, he totaled 46 solo tackles and only missed one. His interception total would be much higher if he didn’t seem to drop every pass that hits him in the hands.
New York has to be careful with spending this offseason with pending deals for Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. Dean is good enough and the right age to splurge on, but he might be their lone major free agent swing if they get him.
Jamel Dean’s Market Value, Career Stats, and More
Dean’s market value is going to be toward the higher end of the CB market. He’s on the younger side of unrestricted free agents who don’t get extended early and is a solid performer. He’s a better player than Charvarius Ward, who scored an average of $13.5 million from the 49ers last year.
Considering the other top cornerbacks under 30 available are almost exclusively made up of individuals who played less than 50% of snaps or are more scheme-limited, Dean is easily the top corner option for the next few years. Contenders may opt for lower-cost options like Peters, James Bradberry, or Patrick Peterson, but it’s not a good group under 30.
Spotrac.com valued Dean at $16.5 million per year, meaning he’s in for a big raise from his rookie deal. This projection looks almost spot on since he shouldn’t earn more than the NFL’s elite but is clearly above the second-tier of earners, including Ward, Shaquill Griffin, and even Jackson.
A four-year deal worth $16.5 million annually would tie him with J.C. Jackson and Byron Jones as the ninth-highest average salary at his position.
Jamel Dean Career Stats
- Games Played (Started): 57 (38)
- Tackles: 193
- Interceptions: 7
- Passes Defensed: 41