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2018 NFL Free Agency

Expect the Saints to Address Slot CB Position Via Free Agency Within the Next Few Days

The "slot" cornerback position. For the New Orleans Saints and the rest of the NFL's 32 teams awaiting the "official" start of 2018 NFL Free Agency tomorrow afternoon, the slot CB position has evolved over the course of time to become one of the most critical roles for an NFL defense.

As the NFL offenses of this modern Era spread out and play more 3-wide receiver sets, opposing defenses have responded in kind by playing more nickel (5 defensive backs) and dime defense (6 defensive backs) — which as a direct result has turned the "slot CB" position into a starting role for most NFL defensive schemes.

But that also created another counter-move for most NFL offensive coordinators, who responded to the usage of a DB covering the slot by simply moving their top receivers and athletic tight ends to that spot on the field to create mismatches (like a 5-foot-10 CB covering a 6-foot-6 TE).

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

So how did NFL defensive coordinators respond in kind?

Easy: by turning the slot corner into a weapon capable of moving all over the football field; sort of like how you would move a "queen" on a chessboard (for those of you that are into the cerebral aspect of this).

The modern slot corner in today's 2018 NFL may be asked to guard a much quicker receive like Patriots WR Julian Edelman, or a much bigger player such as Seahawks TE (and former college basketball power forward) Jimmy Graham.

But he also can be utilized to stop the opponent's running game, blitz packages, and at times can even be used as an EDGE / pass-rusher, an inside linebacker or as a "lockdown" outside boundary corner.

Bottom line: the "slot CB" position is a key role, and your New Orleans Saints are in the market for one after the recent departure of safety Kenny Vaccaro, who filled that role last season for the Black and Gold.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

While the Saints will still have starting #1 and #2 CB's Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley back in 2018, they're still not sure what role that former starter Delvin Breaux will play yet, going forward.

Any one of them can cover the slot, though it's more likely they'll look at adding one via Free Agency as they continue to look for ways to make the defensive secondary even better in time for the upcoming season. 

And apparently, the Saints aren't wasting any time with looking for Vaccaro's replacement.

As it was reported yesterday: the Saints seemingly are interested in cornerbacks Malcolm Butler (formerly of the Patriots) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (formerly of the New York Giants) as it looks to add to a very-much improved secondary from their 2017 season.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have already hosted Butler previously last year in 2017 NFL Free Agency while he was a restricted free agent with the New England Patriots; and at that time he was rumored to be headed to the Saints in a possible trade.

But now after returning to New England last season, the 28-year-old Butler (who's a Vicksburg, Mississippi native) is now an unrestricted free agent, so the Saints will have to pony up the bucks if they decide that he's still on their Free Agency "wish list".

Meanwhile, the 31-year old Rodgers-Cromartie was released by the Giants on Sunday. He was entering the final year of a five-year, $35 million contract.

He would have counted $8.5 million against the salary cap in 2018, and the Giants will save $6.5 million by releasing him.

(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Before releasing him, the Giants had asked Rodgers-Cromartie to take a pay cut, but he declined. They also considered trying him at free safety, a source told ESPN's Jordan Raanan. The two-time Pro Bowler has played cornerback his entire 10-year career, starting on the outside early in his career before being shifted inside to the slot the past two seasons.

Rodgers-Cromartie has 30 career interceptions but had none in 2017 after matching his career high with six in 2016. He was suspended for one game last season by then-coach Ben McAdoo for leaving practice without permission.

Besides the news regarding Butler and Rodgers-Cromartie, Saints fans are already aware of the team's interest in former Jacksonville Jaguars CB Aaron Colvin.

Colvin isn't expected to return to the Jaguars due to their salary cap constraints, making him one of the top DB's after he helped the Jaguars reach the AFC Championship Game.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

A former strong safety who moved to cornerback in college at the University of Oklahoma, Colvin was originally drafted by the Jaguars in the 4th Round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Canal Street Chronicles NFL Draft expert / football analyst John Sigler says that Colvin was only one of 2 CB's in the entire NFL last season who didn't yield or give up a single TD pass to an opposing WR (Saints rookie and 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore was the other).

Sigler also notes that Colvin saw the fewest passing targets (4.0) and allowed the fewest yards per game (22.3) in the NFL last season, and any deal that the Saints potentially make with him would allow them to providing much tighter (and therefore better) coverage than Vaccaro did (Colvin was flagged just three times all year, and only once for holding or pass interference. For comparison, Vaccaro was flagged eight times in twelve games, with five of them counting for holding or pass interference).

Colvin can also play the outside boundary position at CB in a base defense, and even at safety as previously mentioned; and it's that notable versatility along with his outstanding coverage skills that should make the Old Hickory, Tennessee native one of (if not THE) top "targets" for New Orleans when the signing period officially gets underway starting tomorrow afternoon.

One other name that Saints fans should keep in the back of their minds: NOLA native and Arizona Cardinals safety / CB (and former LSU star) Tyrann Mathieu. While primarily used at safety at Arizona, Mathieu has often played the slot CB role as well. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

As reported by USA TODAY: the Cardinals must make a decision about the 25-year old Mathieu and his contract before tomorrow at 4 p.m. Eastern time. If he is on the roster tomorrow (March 14th) the first day of the new league year, he is due a $5 million roster bonus and nearly $19 million is guaranteed for 2018 and 2019.

The Cardinals have offered Mathieu a pay cut, a change to his contract. However, he has not accepted it yet.

Mathieu was solid in 2017 and played 16 games for the first time in his career, but he was not the same disruptive force he had been in the past. 

Should he get released by the Cardinals, it would only stand to reason that the former New Orleans St. Augustine High School star could seek to return back home to New Orleans where his career first began.

That's just one more thing for Saints fans to think about, when the "Free Agent Frenzy" finally (and officially) gets underway tomorrow afternoon...........

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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