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Five more options at cornerback for the Broncos if Chris Harris Jr. leaves

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Broncos are currently putting together their free agent plan. That will greatly impact the direction Denver goes in the 2020 NFL Draft. The plan in free agency has to include what to do at the cornerback position.

Chris Harris Jr. is set to be an unrestricted free agent and the team may not want to pay the hefty price tag he may get on the open market. He’s one of the best cornerbacks on the market and there isn’t much else out there in terms of quality players.

Because the market is so soft at the position, a player like Harris is going to command a premium price. Without Harris, the Broncos would have a huge hole in the secondary they’ll need to fill.

If they let Harris go, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones is likely the Broncos top option as a replacement. In fact, I’ve heard since the Senior Bowl that he may be the top target for the Broncos this offseason. Jones is smart, rangy and capable of playing safety or cornerback in the Vic Fangio defense.

He would be a fine addition, but Jones is likely to be the highest-paid cornerback in free agency this offseason. Jones is four years younger than Harris, so perhaps that age difference is one of the reasons the Broncos may be willing to break the bank for the veteran corner.

After the end of the regular season, there weren’t that many great names at the cornerback position who would be hitting free agency. However, as we get closer to the new league year there are players getting released and players getting put on the trade block.

Here are five other names at the cornerback position who could be options for the Broncos if they don’t bring back Harris or sign Jones.

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Darius Slay

The Broncos have had an interest in Darius Slay before. Last year before the trade deadline, Denver was trying to work out something with the Lions to get Slay in the Mile High City. The Lions asking price was too high, so the Broncos declined to pursue him any further. Now, Slay may be back on the trade block.

The Lions have the No. 3 overall pick and they could draft Jeffrey Okudah from Ohio State to replace Slay in the lineup. They could also get some quality draft capitol for the veteran All-Pro. The Broncos have five picks in the first 100 selections of the 2020 NFL Draft and they may decide that moving some picks for a proven player like Slay is worth it.

From Schefter’s report, it sounds like multiple teams could drive up the price tag for Slay. If added, the Broncos would have to get Slay a new contract that pays him over $15 million annually. He is on the books for $10 million in 2020, but is set to be a free agent in 2021. The Eagles and the Broncos were the most interested in Slay last year and they may be near the top of the list again this year.

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Quinton Dunbar

The trade market might be strong for Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar. An ESPN report from about a week ago indicated that Dunbar was requesting a trade. He had talks with the previous regime, but the new coaching staff and front office have not yet reached out to him.

“I don’t know them, and they don’t know me,” Dunbar said in the report.

However, Dunbar is now backtracking on his statement and denying that he ever was demanding a trade. He simply wants to know where he stands with new head coach Ron Rivera and Company. Dunbar is rated as a top-five cover corner and should be a key piece for what Washington wants to do on defense.

If he is actually on the trade block, Washington could get quite a bit for the 27-year-old cornerback. Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing 200 pounds, Dunbar has the size/strength combination that makes coaches drool. He’s physical and capable of being a disruptive player down the field. Like Harris, Dunbar was undrafted coming into the league back in 2015 out of Florida. He carries that chip on his shoulder in everything he does on the field to this day.

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Josh Norman

Sometimes a player gets a bad reputation for good reasons. Sometimes a player just can’t get along with a certain coaching staff and develops a reputation that he doesn’t deserve. So, what’s the real story with veteran Josh Norman?

He has always been an outspoken player who is no stranger to controversy for his brash play on the field. Norman was added by the Redskins in free agency back in 2016 and only had one good season for the team. That’s one of the reasons why Washington released Norman last week, saving $12.5 million in cap space with the move.

When he came out of Coastal Carolina in 2012, Norman was a sleeper prospect I liked. I talked to him at the East-West Shrine Game that year and learned that he wanted to be drafted by the Broncos.

Norman is not the player he used to be, but he’s likely to get a “prove it” deal now that he’s searching for a new team. Should the Broncos want a reclamation project, then perhaps Norman is a player who would interest them.

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T.J. Carrie

Like Slay, there was a time when the Broncos were pursuing T.J. Carrie. Before he signed with the Browns in 2018, Carrie was linked heavily to the Broncos. Carrie had a quality season playing over 1,000 snaps for the Raiders in 2017 and he cashed in the following offseason.

He ended up signing with the Browns on a four-year, $31 million contract with $10 million in guarantees. Since that signing, Carrie has not played good football and it caused the Browns to release him last week even though he had two years remaining on his deal.

Could Carrie wind up back in Denver? Perhaps, especially due to his likely cheaper contract. Carrie is a slot cornerback and if the Broncos really believe Bryce Callahan can make plays on the outside, then Carrie is an option for them on the inside.

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Vernon Hargreaves

Sometimes a fresh start is needed for NFL players; that may be the case with former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves. A first-round pick for the Buccaneers in the 2016 NFL Draft, Hargreaves was a bust in Tampa. Last year, the Bucs were able to trade Hargreaves to the Texans, but the fresh start didn’t help him as much as some expected.

Last week, the Texans released Hargreaves to avoid paying the $9.6 million option for the 2020 season. They did not rule out the possibility of bringing him back for a lower price, but they did risk losing him on the open market. Hargreaves did have 21 tackles and two pass breakups last year for the Texans in six games.

Like others in this article, Hargreaves is going to be cheaper than Jones or Harris (or Slay or Dunbar). It just depends on whether or not the Broncos feel that their zone defense can benefit the veteran corner who is unlikely to ever play up to his first-round draft status.

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