Now that the Rams have parted ways with one of their worst free agent signings in team history in Cortland Finnegan, they are in dire need of secondary help.
Soon-to-be third-year cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are the only two NFL-caliber cornerbacks on the roster right now*. Both are promising, but neither 2012 draftee has truly distinguished himself yet, and certainly neither guy can be considered a physical, big-bodied cornerback who can muscle up large NFC West opponents such as Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Golden Tate.
*Yes, that means 2013 rookie Brandon McGee is not NFL-caliber. In fact, I don’t think he’s assured of a roster spot in 2014.
Finnegan was supposed to be that guy. But instead, the Rams wasted more than $20 million on a washed-up version of Finnegan, who instead of being a physical, trash-talking corner was simply a trash-talking corner who got burned more often than a fry cook at Denny’s.
But soon after the news of Finnegan’s release hit Twitter, St. Louis Post Dispatch beat writer Jim Thomas noted that the Rams might not be done with Finnegan.
Jeff Fisher says Rams remain interested in re-signing Finnegan at a later date.
— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 5, 2014
I guess the idea is that the 30-year-old Finnegan could still offer the Rams some physicality, albeit in a reduced role – perhaps even at safety rather than cornerback – and at a much reduced rate. ESPN’s Nick Wagoner has also suggested Finnegan might be brought back because of the Rams’ desire for a veteran presence in the secondary.
If the Rams are indeed considering the rugged, cheap veteran corner/safety option – as opposed to (or perhaps in addition to) taking a run at a high-priced premium free agent corner like Alterraun Verner – then there is a much better option available.
His name is Brandon Browner.
I know this probably won’t be a popular sentiment, given Rams fans’ general hatred of all things Seahawks, but just two years ago, Browner was one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. Obviously, the same can be said for Finnegan, but Browner’s fall from grace hasn’t been due to a drastic decline in play. Rather, Browner hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and therefore has cost himself a lot of money and glory while in his prime, because he has a bit of a drug problem that has caused a multitude of suspensions and complicated legal issues for Browner.
For the purpose of brevity and focus, we won’t get into the NFL’s draconian policy toward marijuana use.** Instead, let’s focus on what Browner could bring to the table.
**Although I will gladly point you in the direction of some great resources. Here’s an article by our sister site, cover32 Seahawks that dissects Browner’s suspension, and here’s a Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel segment that examines the use of marijuana in the NFL as a whole.
First of all, unless something unexpectedly changes between now and the start of the 2014 season, Browner will have to serve another four games on his suspension to start the season. This fact alone might be enough to scare a significant amount of teams away. Also, and again, this is if nothing changes with his legal battles, Browner will almost certainly be suspended for an entire season, if not more, should he test positive again.
Now for the football side of things.
Browner’s sheer size – he’s 6’4, 220 pounds – would automatically make him the most physically imposing player in the Rams’ relatively undersized secondary. Browner has lost a step since his prime form in 2011, but the 29-year-old still has a lot to offer if he’s focused and healthy. Pro Football Focus graded him at a +2.8 last season before his suspension, which ranks him 41st out of 110 cornerbacks who took at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps in 2013. In the eight games he played, Browner played in nearly 80 percent of the Seahawks’ snaps and gave up a 78.8 quarterback rating to players he covered, which ranked him at about the 65th percentile in the league***.
***Meanwhile, Finnegan played in nearly 100 fewer snaps than Browner and put up a ghastly PFF rating of -19.7, which ranked him 109th out of 110 cornerbacks in the NFL. His quarterback rating given up of 136.0 ranked him 110 out of 112 cornerbacks who qualified.
Browner’s size and physicality could also make him an obvious fit at strong safety should the Rams decide to slide him back there. And remember earlier when I talked about how Finnegan was supposed to be able to cover all the physical NFC West wide receivers but instead acted as a human turnstile? Browner has proven over the past three seasons that he can hold his own against those guys – when he manages to play.
Actually, Browner’s ability to stay on the field is a good segue into my closing point. The Seahawks seem certain to let Browner walk barring unforeseen circumstances, and his options seem limited at this point, especially with his dark suspension cloud hovering over him. This means Browner could probably be signed for pennies on the dollar compared to what Verner will fetch – or (sorry to bring it up again) what Finnegan commanded back in 2012.
But Browner could be an excellent value if he gets his shit together. He still hasn’t shown any noticeable decline, and he theoretically will be motivated to prove himself all over again.
Remember: This is a guy who after being cut by the Broncos in 2006, played four years – FOUR YEARS – in the CFL biding his time before finally getting another crack at the NFL. When Browner got that chance in 2011, he fully seized his opportunity.
Sure, he might have pissed it away (no drug-testing pun intended), but the risk for the Rams to sign Browner would be very low, and the potential reward could be pretty high if everything clicks. At the very least, Browner’s a much better option than bringing back Finnegan.