Cortland Finnegan was once one of the NFL‘s most dominant cornerbacks. In 2011, only Darrelle Revis graded higher in overall efficiency according to Pro Football Focus, as Finnegan conceded a mere 52 receptions in 635 coverage snaps. With a physical, in-your-face style of play, Finnegan blanketed opposing receivers with airtight coverage and got under their skin with an irritating bravado.
Three years later, Finnegan isn’t the same player. Far from it, in fact. The imperiousness may remain, but his ability to stick with some of the game’s most prolific pass catchers has diminished. After that stellar 2011 campaign with the Tennessee Titans, the St. Louis Rams came calling in free agency to the tune of five years and $50 million.
Whether it was complacency from a big payday, difficulty adjusting to new surroundings or simply deteriorating skills, Finnegan’s play regressed quite significantly in 2012, dropping from that second overall efficiency grade the previous year to 86th overall according to Pro Football Focus. After allowing only 456 yards during his final season with the Titans, Finnegan was torched for 751 yards in his first season with the Rams.
This past year failed to yield any improvement. Although Finnegan was inhibited by a hamstring injury for the majority of the season, he was burned early and often in the seven games he played. In less than half a season of work, Finnegan was victimized for 26 receptions for 353 yards and four touchdowns in only 210 coverage snaps. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 109th most efficient cornerback in football, one spot ahead of the league’s lowest graded player among those qualifying at the position.
Needless to say, the Miami Dolphins signing Finnegan to a two-year, $11 million contract — which they did on Friday — is a risk. But it might say more about another cornerback than it does Finnegan.
Former GM Jeff Ireland selected Boise State product Jamar Taylor with the 54th overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft. It was a pick that addressed a huge need for the Dolphins, but it also turned out to be quite the disappointment in year one.
Sports hernia surgery led to reoccurring issues for Taylor throughout his first training camp. Those problems eventually lingered over into the season. Later, what was deemed as a groin injury forced Taylor to join Miami’s inactives for three games in December. In all, Taylor dressed for a mere nine games and played a grand total of 45 defensive snaps.
Yet, the Dolphins remain high on Taylor — high enough to take a huge gamble on Finnegan. Sure, the Dolphins hope Finnegan is able to return to form or at least exemplify flashes of his old self, but if they didn’t believe they already had a long-term answer opposite Brent Grimes at the position, Finnegan wouldn’t have been the target. Rookie GM Dennis Hickey would would possibly entered the Alterraun Verner sweepstakes or attempted to trade for Darrelle Revis or perhaps settled for less expensive options like Tarell Brown or Brandon Browner.
Regardless, a younger, more promising cornerback with the potential to become a long-term fix would have been nabbed; not Finnegan, who is no way, shape or form worthy of being handed a starting position at this stage of his career. Although the Dolphins possess an elite corner in Grimes, the opposite spot is still vital. In a passing league, it’s imperative to be strong on both boundary spots and at the nickel. If there is a weak link, quarterbacks like Tom Brandy and Peyton Manning will expose it.
Hickey and the Dolphins certainly realize this. But they obviously feel as though Taylor is capable of earning a starting role in his sophomore season, because banking on Finnegan to provide quality coverage would be asinine. Maybe Taylor impressed behind the scenes at practice as a rookie. Maybe the coaches are still enthralled with his college tape. Whatever the case, the Dolphins, unquestionably, have faith in him.
Said faith isn’t blind faith, which explains the addition of a veteran like Finnegan to push Taylor, but it’s significant enough to prevent a more lucrative investment.
After Taylor played so little as a rookie, it was unclear how the Dolphins felt about his future outlook. With the decisions that have been made thus far, though, most namely signing Finnegan, it’s apparent that outlook is as optimistic today as it was last April when Miami selected Taylor in the second round.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.