We all — I’m as guilty as anyone — get excited about the NFL draft, but football is different from, say, basketball. In the NBA the draft comes before free agency. In the NFL free agency comes first. A team’s draft needs can change depending on its signees (or lack thereof).
I mention this because a big-name cornerback with Georgia ties is about to come available. Dunta Robinson was born in Athens; he played at Clarke Central and then at South Carolina. Houston drafted him with the 10th pick of Round 1 in 2004 and he has been a Texan for six seasons. The club, however, has declined to place the “franchise player” tag on him this winter, which essentially means he’ll be a free agent.
The Falcons, as mentioned yesterday, are perceived as needing a CB. Robinson is a good — not great — cornerback who’s only 27 and who might have interest in playing for a Georgia-based team. But here’s the thing: Robinson places a high value on his worth.
When tagged a franchise player last season, Robinson wound up skipping training camp before signing a one-year contract for $9.9 million. Having signed, he worked the Texans’ 2009 opener wearing shoes bearing the message “Pay Me Rick.” (Rick Smith is the Texans’ general manager.)
Would the Falcons have an interest? I’m guessing — and this is just me guessing, OK? — the answer is no. Because Robinson is going to want No. 1 cornerback money having become a free agent at last, and we received a tutorial last season when the Falcons had a chance to keep Domonique Foxworth, a good-but-not-great cornerback who wanted big money. He wound up signing with Baltimore for $28 million over four seasons, with almost $17 million of that money guaranteed.
Some Falcons fans bemoaned Foxworth’s absence last season as the team’s young cornerbacks appeared overmatched, but the organization itself hasn’t second-guessed itself. That was, the Falcons insisted (and still insist), too much to pay for a 26-year-old cornerback who wasn’t of Pro Bowl caliber. Robinson, you should know, has never made the Pro Bowl.
The guess here is that Thomas Dimitroff would rather take his chances on a cornerback in the draft than spend $30 million on a veteran who might not be a major upgrade. (As noted yesterday, the Falcons do want to keep Brian Williams, who was injured last season and who’s a free agent now, but he won’t demand or command No. 1 cornerback money.) And I say again: The two words apt to kill any conversation at Falcons HQ are “DeAngelo Hall,” and he, if memory serves, was a cornerback who held himself in high esteem.
Said Dimitroff, who’s headed to the NFL combine in Indianapolis: “I’m pleased with this group of cornerbacks. I feel good about the corners apt to be there [in the draft].” That doesn’t mean he’ll take one in Round 1. But I’m guessing it means he believes there are younger and cheaper and better options than Dunta Robinson.