Examining the Cornerback Contracts Signed in 2024

I thought in the coming weeks I would go over some of the contracts signed during free agency, share some thoughts on the deals, and see what if anything we can learn about the market going forward.  I thought I would start with cornerback and see how things have gone so far for the position in 2024.

The overall market for corners remains soft. The top contract at the position was signed back in 2022 and the top five features no contracts signed in 2023 or 2024. The thought was maybe things would change this year as there were two franchise players in Jaylon Johnson and L’Jarius Sneed, but as things turned out neither really fit the profile of a true franchise player and wound up signing contracts that did not push the market outside of full guarantees at signing, where Sneed did set a new high water mark.

Really the area that showed some growth was at slot where Taron Johnson and Kenny Moore both hit new peaks for this group of corners. Still this has been a very hit or miss position where free agency, more often than not, is a negative for these corners and their highest value comes from their prior football team.

Here is the breakdown of the top 10 contracts signed this offseason (yards prevented is a metric I use to that calculates an expected net yards vs actual net yards):

NameTeamPlaytimeYards PreventedYearsTotalAPYContract RankFull GuaranteePct. GuaranteedPercent Participation
L’Jarius SneedTitans91.1%-329.74$76,400,000$19,100,0007$51,500,00067.4%4.0%
Jaylon JohnsonBears75.4%-539.04$76,000,000$19,000,0008$43,800,00057.6%2.8%
Chidobe AwuzieTitans65.8%57.93$36,000,000$12,000,00014$19,000,00052.8%4.3%
Taron JohnsonBills89.1%-221.93$30,750,000$10,250,00016$17,825,00058.0%9.7%
Kenny MooreColts92.9%-203.43$30,000,000$10,000,00017$16,000,00053.3%5.1%
Sean Murphy-BuntingCardinals65.8%28.23$25,500,000$8,500,00022$14,195,00055.7%3.6%
Darious WilliamsRams87.3%-285.73$22,500,000$7,500,00025$7,000,00031.1%0.0%
Kendall FullerDolphins87.5%-161.62$15,000,000$7,500,00025$7,975,00053.2%3.7%
Keisean NixonPackers72.8%-57.93$18,000,000$6,000,00028$6,500,00036.1%11.7%
Amik RobertsonLions58.7%-51.12$9,250,000$4,625,00034$4,500,00048.6%0.5%

And here are the cash flows for each contract

L’Jarius SneedTitans$25,000,000$44,000,000$60,000,000$76,400,000
Jaylon JohnsonBears$28,000,000$44,000,000$60,000,000$76,000,000
Chidobe AwuzieTitans$12,000,000$24,000,000$36,000,000FA
Taron JohnsonBills$11,947,667$20,707,667$30,750,000$30,750,000
Kenny MooreColts$11,500,000$20,000,000$30,000,000FA
Sean Murphy-BuntingCardinals$10,000,000$18,000,000$25,500,000FA
Darious WilliamsRams$7,000,000$15,000,000$22,500,000FA
Kendall FullerDolphins$8,000,000$15,000,000FAFA
Keisean NixonPackers$8,325,000$13,000,000$18,000,000FA
Amik RobertsonLions$4,500,000$9,250,000FAFA

Sneed and Johnson ranked 7th and 8th in the market and it seemed clear that Sneed’s contract was designed to just sneak past Johnson in annual value. Johnson wound up with a stronger cash flow this year and he and Sneed will earn identical amounts by the end of year 2 and year 3. So in this respect both contracts are essentially the same.

Sneed did get a better guarantee package with $51.5 million fully guaranteed at signing and Johnson did not receive a favorable vesting date on his 2026 salary so Sneed is basically locked in to earn at least $51.5 million even if things go badly as the Titans would be forced to pay him over $7 million in 2026. Johnson could be cut outright if things go badly. Sneed’s full guarantee is going to be good for the market though his contract does continue an alarming trend for players where teams are guaranteeing per game bonuses which is not a real guarantee.

That doesn’t make it bad for Tennessee it was just something they had to do to get a contract done. Teams will almost always trade guarantees for actual salary and this was the tradeoff. I think from a logical standpoint they can also look at a player like Darious Williams being released and signing for $7 million with the Rams and feeling confident that a $7.5 million guarantee is nothing more than opting into the market price for a player who is released.

Of the two I think the Bears probably got the stronger contract as Johnson was coming off a stronger season, has more of a draft pedigree, and the Bears were offered more than the Chiefs were in trade compensation, though that is not an apples to apples comparison since Johnson would have had one cheap year remaining if traded in 2023. Johnson got the stronger structure with the higher up front payment so if I was going to recommend a contract that was averaging $19 million a year I would probably prefer Johnson’s payout to Sneed’s.

There was a big drop to Chidobe Awuzie who signed for $12 million a year. It is a very straightforward deal where the player earns $12 million each season and it is similar to the contract with Sneed in which you can argue they are opting into a “cut” players salary in 2025 if things go south. This may be too bullish for a player who will be 29 this year and did not have a great 2023 season, but the Titans were spending money this offseason and this looks better now that they also signed Sneed.

The Taron Johnson and Moore contracts are nearly identical and will now be the standard for the position. It will be difficult to jump past both players but they should pull the market up by a few million. The teams did a good job of getting big per game bonuses here and Johnson will also have offseason workouts to attend to earn his entire contract.

The Murphy-Bunting contract was the head scratcher of the offseason. Health has been a concern with him and he has not been a big positive in coverage. This feels like a bet on draft status contract and should help pull players up. His $14.2 million in guarantees are more than double Williams and Nixon who signed for somewhat comparable APY’s. This is a great deal for him and a bad one for Arizona.  

Williams contract feels like a good one for the Rams. It is always hard for players who are released from their contract to do well in free agency and I think that is the case here. Williams has about 1/3of his contract guaranteed at signing and I do not believe he received a 2nd year guarantee at signing which is usually a staple for the Rams.

The bottom three contracts are about what you would expect for the position with teams being cautious with the size and guarantees of the contract.

One that this is universal with the contracts this year is that almost everyone wound up with some type of salary tied to per game bonuses and workouts. About 4.5% on average of the contract is tied up in per game bonuses and attending workouts. In both cases I think this is due to a concern about health and a tendency to want to work out outside of the team in the offseason.

For the teams really pushing bigger per game bonuses everyone on the team (the Titans and Bills fall into this category) it really helps the teams push those per game bonuses on the players and it ends up being the mid tier and lower tier players who get a big percentage tied up in being healthy. This is an area where players probably need to fight more especially if you are being valued at the top of a subgroup of the position.

As the dust settles on free agency it seems clear that the market itself is not going to push forward until we get one of these players drafted high in the first round, like a Sauce Gardner who is extension eligible in 2025, to move the market. To be named a franchise player clearly is not enough nor is trading for someone who is a franchise player.

I do think as we look at the Murphy-Bunting deal and to a lesser extend the Awuzie deal there is going to be more of a push for players that should rank between 15 and 25 in salary to earn more than they have been over the past few years, bt even that will take some time to make a meaningful change to the market.