Morris Claiborne’s debut season with the New York Jets was great at times and disappointing at others.
Claiborne began his sixth professional season looking like the player many hoped he would become when the Dallas Cowboys picked him sixth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. However, Claiborne wasn’t nearly as effective during the second half of the season and enters the offseason as one of New York’s most confounding in-house free agents.
The Jets certainly need help at cornerback after finishing 21st against the pass last season. However, Claiborne’s injury history makes him an untrustworthy candidate to return to the team.
How should the Jets handle the talented, yet enigmatic Claiborne? Let’s breakdown the entire situation:
What he did in 2017
Claiborne was a steady No. 1 cornerback through the first half of the season, recording one interception and defending six passes in his first eight games.
However, a foot injury suffered in a Week 7 loss to Atlanta held Claiborne back the rest of the season. He only missed one game, the Thursday night contest against Buffalo, but wasn’t the same player during the homestretch of the season.
Claiborne finished with a team-high 11 passes defended, 43 tackles and an interception. Pro Football Focus rated him as the 99th overall cornerback with a 48.5 overall grade.
What could his role be in 2018?
It’s tough to rely on Claiborne as a No. 1 cornerback going forward. While he was decent when healthy, he wasn’t a lockdown corner often. Claiborne’s injury history also merits consideration, as 2017 was only the third time the LSU product has played 11 games or more.
If brought back, Claiborne could play as a serviceable No. 2 cornerback. His talent warrants another chance, but not as the primary defender in the secondary. The Jets have very little talent at the position, which means Claiborne would be in line for a starting spot if re-signed.
What’s he worth?
Gauging Claiborne’s value is tricky. He joined the Jets on a 1-year deal worth $5 million last offseason, but that was when his value was probably at its lowest of his career. Claiborne could command a bit more on the open market this time around, but cornerback-needy teams might not deem him as a trustworthy solution.
The free agent cornerback class doesn’t boast many stars aside from Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler. However, there are younger and more durable options out there than Claiborne, who will turn 28 later this month.
A 1-year deal in the neighborhood of $6 million to $9 million should be more than enough to keep Claiborne in town.
Should he stay or should he go?
This is tricky. New York’s cornerback group is one of the weakest on the roster. Outside of Claiborne, the Jets have the inconsistent Buster Skrine, the uninspiring Juston Burris, Darryl Roberts, second-year pros Jeremy Clark and Derrick Jones, and failed trade acquisition Rashard Robinson.
The Jets need a lot of help at this position if they want to come close to contending in 2018. Claiborne is probably the best player on the depth chart as of today, but his durability is always a concern. At this point, the Jets should let Claiborne go and take a run at a top-fledged cornerback like Johnson or Butler. They also should allocate a first or second day draft pick on a young cornerback.
The Jets should move on from Claiborne after a decent rental season.