Look past the price tag, for a moment. There is one indisputable thing you can say about the Eagles’ acquisition of cornerback Ronald Darby from Buffalo: They are in a much better position to contend for a playoff spot than they were 24 hours ago.
Much, much better.
In Darby, the Eagles added not only a starting-caliber cornerback, but also one who possesses a trait that is in dangerously short supply among the rest of the group.
“He’s got rare speed,” general manager Howie Roseman said Friday afternoon.
In 2015, when the Bills selected Darby at No. 50 overall, the former Florida State star ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine. That number ranks in the top 15 percent at his position over the last three years (12th out of 104, per Pro-Football-Reference.com). By comparison, Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas both ran 40s that rank in the bottom 20 percent, Douglas’ 4.59 ranking 86th out of 104 and Mills’ 4.61 ranking 90th.
Straight-line speed is a small part of a cornerback’s needed skill set, but it is an important one. The Eagles’ lack of it has been on display throughout training camp, with Carson Wentz lobbing deep ball after deep ball over Mills, Douglas and veteran journeyman Patrick Robinson. For sure, Wentz deserves plenty of credit: He has been remarkably accurate on his deep throws throughout the summer. But the sheer number of shots down the field available to him had been jarring enough to think that it would be a deal breaker for any playoff hopes. This is the worst group of corners the Eagles have had perhaps in their history. And that is saying something.
In Darby, the Eagles clearly think they have found an answer. The Bills had one of the top pass defenses in the NFL last season, though Darby was aided by starting opposite a Pro Bowl-caliber cover man in Stephon Gilmore, who signed a huge free-agent contract with the Patriots this off-season.
His production on the ball, though he doesn’t have a high interception number, his PBU number is incredibly high,” Roseman said. “He’s played a variety of coverages. He won a national championship at FSU. You see him go against the players we go against in our division. The Bills in 2015 played the NFC East, so you have that luck. When you go into the draft, a lot of those things are unknown, so you have a lot of known quantities in him. We have some people in the building that have been around him, which is an important part as well.”
The price was steep: a third-round pick and Jordan Matthews’ final season before free agency.
Darby was the No. 50 overall pick in the 2015 draft, which is notable because it means he was still on the board at No. 47, when the Eagles selected cornerback Eric Rowe, whom the Eagles gave up on after one year, trading him to the Patriots last season for a fourth-round pick. So when all was said and done, this was the balance sheet:
Eagles Give Up:
– 2015 2nd-rounder
– 2018 3rd-rounder
– 1 year of Jordan Matthews
– 3 years of CB (1 of Rowe, 2 of Darby)
– 2018 4th-rounder
If they’d simply drafted Darby at No. 47 instead of Rowe, they would have gotten four years of rookie-contract cornerback play, plus they’d still have a 2018 third-rounder and one more season of Matthews in the slot.
All of that is immaterial to the wisdom of the move in the present moment. It’s just a good example of how the Eagles’ front-office dysfunction set the team back. If the current personnel structure had been in place back in 2015, perhaps the Eagles end up drafting Darby.
Whatever the case, the move makes plenty of sense. Assuming Darby lives up to expectations and remains in Philly long term (he has two more seasons left before free agency), it will give the Eagles a ton of young depth at corner, with Mills, 2017 second-rounder Sidney Jones, and 2017 third-rounder Douglas.
“We looked at teams that are having tremendous success — they continue to throw resources at that position,” Roseman said. “For us, that was the overall, how we want to build this, how we want to look. It’s to be really strong at that position going forward.”