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Free Agent Spotlight: Cornerback, Trae Waynes

Our free agent spotlight series rolls on...

The second half of the 2019 season saw the Buccaneer defense improve in a major way. Perhaps the most significant leaps forward came in the secondary, with young cornerbacks Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting getting better and better each week. With each of those three guys obviously returning in 2020, cornerback may not be a priority for Tampa Bay this offseason. But with some cap space to work with, nothing can really be ruled out.

So, with that said, we continue our free agent spotlight series today with a look at an experienced corner that will be just 28 years old when the new season begins.

TRAE WAYNES’ CAREER THUS FAR

NFL Draft Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After a three-year collegiate career at Michigan State, Trae Waynes entered the 2015 NFL Draft, in which he was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the No. 11 overall pick. That made him the highest-drafted cornerback in franchise history in addition to being the first off the board in that particular draft. In his first two seasons, Waynes played more of a depth role behind veterans like Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman.

It was 2017 when Waynes got his chance as a starter, a chance he took and never looked back from. He started all 16 games that year, totaling 65 tackles (57 solo), two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and a sack. In 2018, he started all 14 games he played in, posting decent numbers, though they declined from the previous year.

This past year, he once again started all 14 games he played in and got his numbers back up a bit. He finished with 58 tackles (56 solo), one interception, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Overall, he hasn’t necessarily lived up to being the No. 11 pick in 2015, but he has developed into a guy that is more than serviceable. He played a nice role on a Minnesota team that made the playoffs two of the three years he started.

WHY IT WORKS

Pro Football Focus has Waynes as the fourth-best corner on the free agent market, behind Byron Jones, Chris Harris Jr. and Logan Ryan. He is certainly a talent, one that could be a nice addition to Tampa Bay’s young cornerback group—especially when you consider the fact that he has five years as a pro under his belt. He also has playoff experience, which is something no one in the Bucs’ current group has.

His play against the run has been consistently impressive throughout his time with the Vikings, while his speed is something that theoretically should help in coverage. At the NFL Combine in 2015, he ran a 4.31-second 40-yard dash. That’s more speed than the team currently has at the position. And his age certainly helps his case, as he turns just 28 in July. Having a guy still on the right side of 30 with as much experience as Waynes has could be an intriguing proposition for Tampa Bay.

BUT...

As much talent as Waynes seems to have, it hasn’t translated as well as anyone likely hoped when he was the first cornerback drafted in 2015. His speed is great, but his coverage has been a problem at times. In fact, he has allowed 16 touchdowns in the last four seasons. Now, that doesn’t sound like a terrible number per se, but it doesn’t exactly inspire much excitement about seeing him in a Bucs uniform.

For a guy once believed to be a future No. 1 corner, he doesn’t look like he’ll ever be more than a pretty good No. 2. And considering that, is he really going to be enough of an upgrade over Davis, Dean and Murphy-Bunting to warrant the payday he’s likely looking for in free agency?

WHAT’S THE COST?

Waynes just finished up his rookie contract in Minnesota, having earned just over $9 million on his fifth-year option in 2019. Considering his age, this would presumably be the best time for him to get a big contract before he hits his 30s. But what he’s done up to this point in his career hasn’t necessarily set him up for a massive deal. Spotrac currently estimates his market value at $8.4 million per year, projecting a three-year deal worth a little over $25 million for him. That’s not too bad of a price tag for a player with his experience and talent, but considering the team’s current corners are on their rookie deals, it might not be something to take on.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

More than anything, we don’t really know whether or not the Bucs even want to address the cornerback position. Everyone seems happy with the group of Davis, Dean and Murphy-Bunting heading into 2020—and rightfully so. If Tampa Bay wants to add a veteran to the secondary, it’s more likely to be at the safety position. And if the team was to add an experienced corner, it would likely be someone less costly and less likely to want guaranteed playing time. In other words, a cost-effective depth piece might be the more attractive move.

MAKE THE DECISION

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This doesn’t feel like the likeliest of moves for Tampa Bay to make this offseason, but might it be worth exploring? After all, the sample size from Dean and Murphy-Bunting might not be enough for the team to completely ignore its options at the position in free agency. If Jason Licht and company do want to evaluate their choices, this is a pretty good one that wouldn’t cost an astronomical amount.

So, Bucs fans, you’re up. What do you think of Waynes? Be sure to vote in the poll and feel free to discuss the possibility in the comments down below.

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