Why bring back a rehabbing Ronald Darby on a fairly sizable contract — one year at somewhere north of $8 million — when you already have a large stable of promising young corners who carried the Eagles down the stretch last year and through the playoffs and are all making minimum wage or close to it?
It’s a fair question. It’s a good question.
When last year ended, the Eagles were getting very good outside corner play from Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox, although Maddox did come back to earth a bit in the playoffs. Not surprising for a rookie fourth-round pick.
But we all saw tons of potential from Douglas, who made tremendous progress as a cover corner and proved to be as capable a tackling corner as we’ve seen around here since Sheldon Brown.
The question with Maddox is does he end up at safety or corner, and the Eagles answered that — at least temporarily — when they restructured Rodney McLeod, which means Malcolm Jenkins and McLeod are your starting safeties in 2019 if McLeod is healthy.
Then there’s Jalen Mills, who fans love to hate and struggled last year before he got hurt. But Mills was a starter on a Super Bowl team and is very good in the red zone. And there’s Sidney Jones, who the Eagles liked enough to draft in the second round in 2017 even though they knew he couldn’t play for a year.
And Cre’Von LeBlanc, who really took ownership of the slot late in the season.
A lot of intriguing talent. A lot of intriguing young talent.
You would think the Eagles could go into training camp with Douglas, Maddox, Mills, Jones and LeBlanc at corner and let everybody compete for the two outside spots and the slot.
And that would have given the Eagles a pretty good secondary.
I saw enough from Douglas and Maddox the second half of last year to feel like they would wind up outside, with LeBlanc inside. That would allow Jones to back up outside as he continues to grow as a player and allow Mills to take his time getting healthy.
But most of these guys are versatile and can play inside or outside and in some cases safety as well, so there were a lot of interesting possibilities.
I would go into the 2019 season with that group.
So why Darby?
Because one absolute law of the NFL is that you can never have enough cornerbacks.
If last year didn’t teach us that, I don’t know what ever will.
The Eagles lost Mills with a foot injury in the Jacksonville game, and they lost Darby a week later against Dallas. Between injuries and guys just not playing well, they went through 10 cornerbacks during the season. And still made the playoffs.
It’s easy to sit back and say, Douglas, Maddox and LeBlanc can hold down corner, but the reality is that those three have started a combined 35 games in their careers.
They’ve shown promise, but none of them are a proven commodity over the long term.
And relying on promise and potential isn’t always the best way to build an NFL team.
Darby — when healthy — is very good. He’s fast and aggressive, has good size and is fearless.
As much as I like the promise that Douglas and Maddox have shown and the potential Jones has and the spirit that LeBlanc played with last year and Mills’ swagger from the Super Bowl run, a healthy Darby is the Eagles’ most talented cornerback.
Now, the healthy part is key. If Darby can’t get through 2019 without getting hurt, the Eagles are off the hook with no cap hit in 2020. They'll move on, much like they did with Jordan Hicks.
There are still a lot of unknowns in the secondary. Mills, Darby and McLeod are all coming off injuries and could presumably start the season on the PUP list.
The group the Eagles start with will likely not be the one they finish with.
So the more talent you can stockpile, the better your chances of having a capable crew once January rolls around.
The cap space was there. Darby wanted to be here. He knows the system. The deal is team-friendly.
So there’s no downside to this. It’s simple. The Eagles are a better team with Darby than without him.
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