* With the Super Bowl in the past and the 2021 season in the books, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Matt Weyrich take a look at potential free agents that the Washington Commanders could benefit from signing this offseason. Next up: Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden.
The Commanders enter the 2022 offseason in need of some help in their secondary.
As detailed in the free agent profile for Saints safety Marcus Williams, Washington’s defensive backs struggled to contain opposing passers despite being one of the most highly paid position groups on the roster last year. Even if safety Landon Collins (team-high $16.2M against cap in 2022) is released or traded, the Commanders’ secondary will once again be an expensive unit next season.
In particular, the Commanders’ top two cornerbacks William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller will combine for a cap hit of just over $25 million in 2022. That doesn’t leave much room for potential upgrades. If the Commanders do want to bring in a veteran piece with some upside, they can’t afford to jump into bidding wars for top free agents J.C. Jackson, Carlton Davis or Stephon Gilmore.
Among the next tier of cornerbacks who carry significant upside are Minnesota Vikings CB Patrick Peterson and Pittsburgh Steelers CB Joe Haden, both of whom could benefit from playing multiple roles in Washington’s zone-heavy defense.
The Commanders need help at safety more than they do at cornerback, and Peterson could be a candidate to play both positions depending on schemes and matchups.
The 31-year-old was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL from 2011-18, earning three First Team All-Pro selections and never missing a game while amassing 23 interceptions for the Arizona Cardinals. Then came 2019, when Peterson was suspended six games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. He hasn’t been the same player since, receiving a sub-70 grade from Pro Football Focus each of the last three seasons.
That’s not to say he’s been bad. Peterson is still very much a solid No. 2 cornerback at this stage of his career. However, Washington already has a No. 2 corner in Fuller, who PFF adored in 2021 by giving him an 81.5 grade — third-highest in the NFL among CBs. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio lined Fuller up either in the slot or over the middle of the field on 28.3% of snaps, leaving an opening for Peterson to still get some work on the outside while shifting over to safety across from Kamren Curl when needed.
This wouldn’t be a new transition for Washington. Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall made a similar switch for the then-Redskins late in his career, though injuries limited him from providing much consistency at the position. Peterson would have to be interested in making such a move, something that will likely depend on how many suitors line up to sign him next month.
Haden is a year older than Peterson but has also been a shell of his former self in recent seasons. The longtime CB for the Steelers and Cleveland Browns failed to reel in an interception for the first time since 2015 last year while registering four-year lows in passes defended (six) and tackles (38). Injuries played a factor, limiting him to 12 games.
While interception totals can be misleading because a good DB often doesn’t have many balls thrown his way, Haden was slapped with a PFF grade of 62.1 that ranked 62nd among corners. Like Peterson, he’s still capable of being a solid No. 2 cornerback, but some more reps on the inside could help him capitalize on his effectiveness.
Fuller was more effective on the outside than when pressed into man coverage over the middle, an area the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Haden fits the profile for. If Del Rio decides he wants to keep Fuller and Jackson as his top two CBs on the outside, Haden makes sense as an option at nickel corner. His presence wouldn’t disrupt the development of Benjamin St-Juste, either.
With PFF projecting Peterson and Haden to sign one-year deals for $6 million and $5 million, respectively, the Commanders could certainly afford to buy low on either of the former star cornerbacks. While they may no longer play like the players they used to be, both Peterson and Haden could fill valuable roles on the Washington defense.
Other Free Agent Targets: