With free-agency set to kick off in less than 24 hours, Viking fans are speculating like crazy about what big names their precious purple are going to target. With a huge need in the secondary, I’m going to take this time to break down and compare a couple of the best free-agents available(that also happen to play in the secondary): Jairus Byrd and Alterraun Verner. While signing both is about as unlikely as Christian Ponder turning into Peyton Manning overnight, signing one is a serious possibility. After comparing the two, I will come up with a verdict based on which one, in my opinion, the Vikings should sign.
Who is he? Jairus Byrd has been a free safety for the Buffalo Bills ever since he was drafted out of Oregon in the 2nd Round of the 2009 NFL draft. Byrd is currently in the discussion for best safety in the NFL along with Earl Thomas and Jamarca Sanford(Just kidding, unless you count “almost interceptions” as interceptions). Byrd is currently 27 year old and stands at 5’10 while weighing 203 lbs.
How much money will he command? Byrd is expected to command roughly $9 million per year-a hefty price tag for a safety. 10 years ago, this price tag would be ridiculous, but in today’s increasingly pass-happy NFL, you can make an argument that he is worth his asking price.
Does he have the production to back it up? Byrd wasted no time putting up huge stat lines. In his rookie year, he intercepted 9 passes while defending another 11. In his career(5 years in the league, and playing 73 of 80 possible games) Byrd has amassed a whopping 22 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, 33 passes defended, and 356 total tackles.
Strengths? Byrd excels in pass-coverage, while also being a plus run-defender. He plays a very aggressive style of defense, forcing a lot of fumbles to go along with his elite interception numbers.
Weaknesses? Very few. One can argue that his height of only 5’10 is a concern(Although he plays much bigger than this), and his 40 time of only 4.68 is underwhelming(Although he plays much faster than this as well). He could also be a small injury risk after missing 5 games in 2013.
Where would he fit in with the Vikings? He would start at free safety, moving Harrison Smith over to strong safety, which shouldn’t be a problem as Smith is very versatile. As far as scheme goes, Zimmer does a great job of utilizing talent, and Byrd would be a great fit in any scheme, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
Who is he? Alterraun Verner has been a cornerback for the Tennessee Titans since being drafted out of UCLA in the 4th Round of the 2010 NFL draft. After a true breakout season in 2013(grading out as the 12th best cornerback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus), Verner has watched his stock skyrocket in the past few months. Verner is 25 years old, stands at 5’10 and weighs 186 lbs.
How much money will he command? Verner is expected to command upwards of $10 million per year, and currently has a lot of teams interested in his services. Sam Shield’s recent contract will only increase Verner’s payday, as Verner is the superior corner.
Does he have the production to back it up? In 2013, Verner had 5 interceptions to go along with 57 total tackles, and a tremendous 23 passes defended. Career-wise, Verner has 11 interceptions, 288 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 51 passes defended.
Strengths? Verner is extremely quick. He has excellent instincts, and he can play both man and zone defense. He also has very fluid hips, and he hasn’t missed a single NFL game in his 4 year career.
Weaknesses? Verner doesn’t play very much press-coverage(That doesn’t mean he can’t, but it does say something that he rarely plays it). He also lacks elite speed(although he makes up for this with great instincts and quickness) and can gamble a little too much in zone coverage, but that’s not always a bad thing.
Where would he fit in with the Vikings? If signed by the Vikings, Verner would start opposite Xavier Rhodes. He can play both man and zone defense, so he should be a great fit in Zimmer’s scheme.
The Verdict: Alterraun Verner
This was a really, really close call, as I would be extremely happy if the Vikings signed either one. Jairus Byrd would help a lot in both run defense and pass defense, but what this verdict ultimately came down to was other personnel on the roster. Outside of Xavier Rhodes, there aren’t many options at cornerback, while at safety, both Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo can be serviceable enough to hold down the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith and do a solid job. Due to this, I believe that having another corner that can lock down a receiver is a bigger need than a top-flight safety(Wow, I just got a notification that the Bucs are releasing Darrelle Revis if he can’t be traded….).
Thank you all for reading and lets hope for the best tomorrow! Go ahead and leave your opinions in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @jackmack28! Skol!