There wasn't a ton of things to love about the 2013 season as a Titans fan, but watching Alterraun Verner was an exception. The UCLA product turned it on during the past campaign, blazing a trail out of the gate that had him ranked No.1 in the NFL in multiple CB metrics through mid-season.
2013 Shutdown Mode
Verner put in a number of ridiculous performances to start the year, netting him a league-best passer rating against of less than 25.0 at one point, as well as leading the league with 5 interceptions. His play was a revelation from the year before, where both he and fellow Titan cornerback Jason McCourty were often foiled by suspect play behind them.
After the Titans brought in Bernard Pollard and George Wilson to shore up the safety spot, and Griffin's play at an all-time high, both Corners impressed. By the mid-season point, Verner led all corners in passes defensed, and was a clear top 3 at the position. Not bad for a guy who fell to the fourth round.
Another area the corner improved was his aggression. Verner played at a more physical level this past year, without allowing it to hurt the team with penalties. While he did draw a few PI flags, the style paid off. He also improved on his field awareness, and was rarely caught out of position even on the back end. Below is what he had to say about this change.
"It feels like people are starting to notice," he said. "I feel like I'm basically the same player as I've been. It's just that I've taken advantage of a lot more opportunities, and I've been a little bit more aggressive this year than in prior years."
2nd Leg Lag
While his play slipped some down the stretch, Verner has still only given up 4 TDs in 2 years, and he was ever present this past season, playing 1003 snaps, good for 4th on the team. The Titans Corner finished the year ranked 12th per PFF, with 57 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 TD, 2 Fumble Recoveries, and an impressive 23 passes defensed to his credit.
Beyond this, over the past few seasons Verner has proven himself to be an accomplished tackler, and his skills in that department overshadow that of some of his highly-touted contemporaries, not to mention over fellow Free Agent Corners Aquib Talib and Brent Grimes.
Pending Free Agency
So the big question is? Should the Titans pony up the cash to bring him back. While I think his cost may be overstated with only 2 real years of good play, one of them being great. He is not going to command top CB money, but more in the region of Jason McCourty's contract. I would hope that Verner would jump on a deal like that one. Beyond this, the idea that a team is not willing to pay two starting cornerbacks decent money is a fallacy. In a league moving heavily in direction of the pass, so much so that nickel is practically a base defense for many teams. Having 3 "starting" corners is basically a necessity at this juncture, and the best defenses thrive from the flexibility of having defenders of that quality.
When all is said and done, there are a lot of FA's on this Tennessee squad that should warrant a return, but letting an All-Pro Corner, and an emerging defensive leader, walk out the door would be a poor move. Should all else fail, placing the Franchise Tag tender on Verner would allow the team to work out a deal exclusively. Either way, this defense would be taking a step backwards to let Verner leave town.