When the Buffalo Bills signed veteran cornerback Corey Graham to a four-year, $16.3 million contract in March that included $7.6 million guaranteed, the Ravens declined to engage in a bidding war.
As much as the Ravens wanted to retain Graham, they had other needs and lacked the salary cap flexibility to hold onto one of the better nickel backs in the NFL.
Months later, the Ravens are evaluating the merits of returning cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson as they compete for the nickel back job behind starters Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.
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Both Brown and Jackson are fast, young players with some upside.
Entering his fourth NFL season after being drafted in the third round in 2011 out of the Texas, Brown expressed confidence about his chances.
"Asa's my man, but business is business," Brown said. "I'm going for that third spot, and I pray I have a good season and I stay healthy. I feel confident. I feel good about how everything is going."
Brown played in every game last season and finished third on the team with eight special-teams tackles and had two tackles and one pass deflection on defense. In 39 career games, Brown has recorded 19 tackles and eight pass deflections.
In 2012, Brown played extensively in sub defensive packages due to injuries and had a career-high 14 tackles with six pass deflections.
"I feel more confident each year, really every time I get on the field," Brown said. "I'm settling down. I'm getting smarter. I'm seeing stuff before it happens. I'm taking advantage of it."
Brown's primary competition is Jackson, a 2012 fifth-round draft pick who served an eight-game suspension last year and a four-game suspension as a rookie for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy. Jackson played sparingly last season, appearing in four games on special teams.
The Ravens didn't draft a cornerback and will continue to evaluate the veteran cornerback market, but teammates have expressed confidence in Brown and Jackson. Brown is the frontrunner, but it's early.
“They’re going to be big for us coming up this year, knowing that we didn’t take any corners in the draft," Webb said of Brown and Jackson. "[General manager] Ozzie [Newsome] knows he has two great, young guys that are coming up. You’ve got Asa Jackson who can play the nickel and outside, but mostly better inside.
"And Chykie Brown has been playing good. He’s had his chance to get out on the field, but now he gets thrown in and it’s his. He’s going to get to show you all what he’s capable of.”
Brown said learned a lot of knowledge from Graham, who had 68 tackles and four interceptions last season.
"Learning from Corey, Corey was a ballhawk," Brown said. "He helped us, he taught me how to study, read formations. I got to take advantage of that."