The Eagles paid a reasonably high price to acquire Ronald Darby last August, sending a third-round draft choice and Jordan Matthews to the Bills in exchange for the cornerback.
So why is it all offseason there were rumors the Eagles might turn around and flip Darby? And why is it, even as training camp approaches those rumblings persist?
Darby is the Eagles’ most accomplished cornerback in many respects. Despite missing eight games last season, his three interceptions were tied for the most among the team’s returning players, while only Malcolm Jenkins received a higher grade from Pro Football Focus in the secondary. In terms of pedigree, Darby is a second-round talent with sub-4.4 speed and a nose for the football – the kind of game-changing ability you can’t teach – and, except for Jalen Mills, he’s the only proven corner on the roster.
Yet, the feeling Darby is on the trade block has been hard to shake. After months of speculation, but little concrete evidence to back it up, perhaps it’s worth exploring the legitimacy of the idea.
The rumor appears to have originated from an appearance by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on 97.5 The Fanatic on March 6. At the time, Mortensen said he would be surprised if the Eagles didn’t add a third-round pick in April’s draft, and believed they would move a defensive back to pick up the extra selection.
Though Mortensen never singled out Darby by name, he was the logical choice. The 24-year-old’s contract is scheduled to expire at the end of the 2018 season, and given the Eagles’ salary cap restraints and depth at cornerback, re-signing him long-term might prove challenging.
There’s been a lot of noise about the possibility of trading Darby ever since, but no strong or definitive report indicating the Eagles ever attempted to do so.
If the Eagles were to deal a corner, Darby does make the most sense. Mills is under contract through 2019, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas through 2020, and recent fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox through 2021. DeVante Bausby has also emerged as a rising prospect under contract for the foreseeable future.
Then again, if the Eagles are serious about repeating as Super Bowl champions, there’s no reason they should be aggressive in trying to dump Darby. A strong argument can be made he’s their best cover man, and set to play the ’18 season for a cool $1 million.
Who’s to say the Eagles wouldn’t make a concerted effort to sign Darby long-term after this season, either? Cornerback is clearly a position the team values. Mills has his limitations – not to mention his contract comes up soon – while Jones, Douglas and Maddox are all relative unknowns at this point. By the end of the ’18 campaign, Darby might be the only certainty of the bunch.
Right now in particular, remove Darby from the equation, and almost everybody else is nothing more than a projection. It’s difficult to imagine the Eagles taking such a huge gamble when there’s still so much at stake this season.