CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from Jan. 20, 2021.
As the official start of the 2021 NFL calendar approaches, the Cleveland Browns figure to be one of the league's more active teams. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top free agents set to hit the market at cornerback, a position that figures to be one of the Browns' top priorities this offseason.
William Jackson III (Cincinnati Bengals)
Arguably the top free-agent cornerback on the market this year, William Jackson III totaled 11 pass defenses and one interception in 14 games with the Bengals last season. Selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Houston product ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 20 cornerback last season and the same website's No. 16 overall free agent this offseason.
While the 28-year-old Jackson will likely be in high demand, the Browns have more than enough cap space to make a competitive offer. PFF projects Jackson to receive a three-year, $40 million contract, which would fall in line with Cleveland's current competitive window.
Desmond King II (Tennesee Titans)
A two-time All-American at Iowa, Desmond King II has enjoyed uneven production since entering the NFL in 2017. While he earned All-Pro honors in 2018, he ranked as PFF's No. 29 and No. 40 cornerback in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and was ultimately traded from the Los Angeles Chargers to the Tennessee Titans last season.
But while King might make for a tough evaluation, what isn't up for debate is the 26-year-old's ability as a slot cornerback, which happens to be one of the Browns' biggest needs. With a projected three-year, $17.5 million contract, King could provide Cleveland with an affordable, high upside player capable of filling into multiple holes in the Browns' secondary.
Mike Hilton (Pittsburgh Steelers)
With Kevin Johnson set to become a free agent, Cleveland doesn't just have a need at the starting spot opposite Denzel Ward, but also at nickel. Enter Mike Hilton, who has primarily played in the slot since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
While he may not possess the versatility of some of the other players on this list, the Ole Miss product has a reliable track record as a nickel and would immediately fill a void in the Browns' secondary. Should Cleveland opt to target multiple cornerbacks on the free agent market, it would make plenty of sense for the 26-year-old Hilton to be one of them.
Troy Hill (Los Angeles Rams)
With experience on both the outside and at nickel, Troy Hill is the type of versatile cornerback who could give the Browns front office flexibility with the rest of its decision-making. Furthermore, he has ranked as a top-30 cornerback, according to PFF, in each of the last two seasons, including in 2019, when he ranked as the website's No. 12 overall corner.
While he may be a little older than Cleveland's front office would prefer -- he'll be 30 by the time the 2021 season starts -- the Youngstown native has arguably one of the highest floors of any of the cornerbacks on this year's market. A one or two-year deal for the Browns would make sense and fall in line with the approach that the team's front office took during last year's offseason.
Brian Poole (New York Jets)
Ranking as PFF's No. 9 cornerback in 2019 and No. 11 cornerback in 2020, Brian Poole might be one of the most underrated players at any position on this year's open market. While he possesses experience both outside and in the slot, the 5-foot-9 player projects better on the inside.
Between his upside and flexibility, the 28-year-old Poole is the type of player Cleveland's front office has often coveted. While he might not get the same attention as some of the other players on this list, the Florida product would provide an immediate upgrade to a Browns secondary.
Chidobe Awuzie (Dallas Cowboys)
As an outside cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie is considered to be a league-average player. But the 25-year-old's versatility -- he's played cornerback, nickel and free safety during his NFL career so far -- could be attractive to Cleveland, which has multiple holes to fill in its secondary.
Other free agent cornerbacks:
- Richard Sherman (San Francisco 49ers)
- Shaquill Griffin (Seattle Seahawks)
- Quinton Dunbar (Seattle Seahawks)
- Xavier Rhodes (Indianapolis Colts)
- Ronald Darby (Washington Football Team)
- Jason Verrett (Arizona Cardinals)
- Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals)
- Nickell Robey-Coleman (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Mackensie Alexander (Cincinnati Bengals)
- Gareon Conley (Houston Texans)
- A.J. Bouye (Denver Broncos)