On Tuesday it was announced that San Diego Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward is part of this year’s Pro Bowl roster. This has done nothing but solidify the fact that Hayward was this year’s best free-agent signing.
Yes, that may be a bold statement, but his play this season has made it factual.
Hayward was voted to the Pro Bowl on the AFC side along with Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. He currently leads the league with seven interceptions—two more than any other player in the league.
Hayward has brought a much needed presence to the San Diego defense, one that was inept at forcing turnovers a year ago. But has he really been the best free-agent signing of the 2016 season?
Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon have been instrumental in reigniting the defense of the New York Giants. Josh Norman has become a shut-down corner in Washington and on the offensive side of the ball, Kelechi Osemele is a monster on the offensive line of the Oakland Raiders.
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But what do all of those players have in common? They all cost a lot of money to obtain. Hayward, on the other hand, was signed for an average of just over $5 million per season. In addition, he was signed on March 13, several days after the free-agent market had opened, meaning other teams could have signed him too.
Hayward was not even considered a marquee signing for the team when he was brought in. The Chargers instead threw their money at Travis Benjamin and Dwight Lowery on the first day of the signing period. Hayward has been better than both of them—by a lot.
Furthermore, consider the conditions that Hayward has had to play with. After Jason Verrett was lost for the season due to injury, it’s easy to think that many teams felt Hayward would be exposed as a starting cornerback. After all, he was just supposed to be an extra nickel defender when he was signed. Hayward has played with Verrett and Brandon Flowers on the field and still looked like one of the best corners in the league.
He often takes on the opposition’s best wide receiver and teams are even starting to shy away from him just because of the ability to make plays that he has displayed. On the year, he has 51 tackles and an impressive 19 passes defensed in addition to his seven picks. He’s beginning to earn a reputation as a guy you don’t want to throw on.
San Diego general manager Tom Telesco took a lot of flack for his roster decisions prior to this season, and deserved most of the negative criticism that came his way. But this was a move that he not only did well with, but he knocked it out of the park.
For my money, this was the best free-agent move made this season and it’s honestly a pretty easy call.