How the Chargers should handle cornerback in free agency and the draft

Pittsburgh Steelers v Seattle Seahawks
Pittsburgh Steelers v Seattle Seahawks / Jane Gershovich/GettyImages

The NFL free agency period has not officially started but the moves are already coming in a flurry. The NFL's tampering window opened on Monday and the likes of Kirk Cousins, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard and many others have signed new deals.

LA Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Joe Hortiz must fix the salary cap situation before the official start of free agency on Wednesday; although the team has already targeted players to strengthen the weakest areas of the roster.

One position that wasn't addressed on Monday was cornerback. After JC Jackson's disappointing Chargers tenure, and Michael Davis becoming a free agent (plus having a disastrous 2023 season), the Bolts must sign capable defensive backs. They actually finished bottom-two pass defenses in 2023, only ranking ahead of the Commanders. Asante Samuel Jr. is the only ready-to-start CB on the roster.

Is the best cornerback value in free agency or the NFL draft?

Free agent cornerbacks for the Chargers

It's an exceptional free-agency class of cornerbacks. Last week, the Bills released Tre'Davious White, and the Steelers cut Patrick Peterson. However, Adoree' Jackson (Giants), Kendall Fuller (Commanders) and Darious Williams (Jaguars) are the best CB available.

They have played enough games, showed their worth, and have enough years left in their NFL careers (all three are younger than 31). Both Williams and Fuller finished as top-5 cornerbacks in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus).

However, the Chargers might not look at any of the top corners, given the constrained salary cap they might have from March 13 on. Sports contracting site, Spotrac, predicts that Darious Williams has a market value of $12.8 million a year, and Adoree' Jackson could get up to $11.3 million, making it very difficult for Los Angeles to sign either of them.

A cheaper alternative might be the solution, though there are not enough accomplished players in that tier. The only viable one is Patrick Peterson. He would be an interesting addition if available for $5-7 million a year.

Peterson rekindled his NFL career in Minnesota and Pittsburgh, where he had two interceptions and 11 passes defensed last year. However, the Chargers should not rely on him long term, as he is about to be 34. That's why the Chargers front office and coaching staff should target a CB in the 2024 NFL Draft's second round, and there are many of them among the best overall prospects.

Chargers selecting a CB in the second round of the NFL draft

The first two rounds of the draft are full of elite cornerbacks. For example, PFF ranked nine corners in its big board's top-50 players, some of whom won't be selected in Day 1. The Chargers will very likely select an offensive player (such as wide receiver) with the 5th overall pick.

Mike Sainristil (Michigan) is one of the CBs who would be available at the beginning of the second round. A national champion with the Wolverines, Sainristil would make a lot of sense due to his Jim Harbaugh and DC Jesse Minter connections. Though undersized at 5'10", Sainristil is a ball-hawk, according to NFL's Lance Zierlein. He has also proven to be fast, unlike Michael Davis in 2023.

TJ Tampa (Iowa State) could also be available on Day 2. He is PFF's #36 overall prospect and sixth-best CB. Perennial draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr has him selected at the end of the first round, though he is a post-Day 1 selection in almost all of the mock drafts. Other top cornerbacks who could be available in the second round include Kamari Lassiter (Georgia) and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (Missouri).