When the Eagles open the 2019 season in a little less than six months, Ronald Darby has every intention of being one of their starting corners that day.
“My rehab is going great,’’ Darby, who tore his ACL last November, said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “My goal is to be back by Week 1.
“It’ll be up to the doctors and the trainers, and we’ll see how everything goes. But that’ll be right around 9-10 months, which is right on pace for how long it takes to get back" from an ACL injury.
Barring a setback, Darby, who signed a new one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Eagles last week after briefly testing the free agent market, should be ready to go by then, though he’ll probably be eased back in slowly.
Quarterback Carson Wentz, who tore his ACL and LCL in Week 14 of the 2017 season, returned in Week 3 last year. Darby, who tore only the ACL, suffered his injury last season in Week 10.
Darby, acquired from Buffalo in an August 2017 trade, missed 10 games last season after the injury, including two in the postseason.
The year before, he missed eight games with a dislocated ankle. He did return from that, however, and started all three of the Eagles’ postseason games that year, including their Super Bowl win over New England.
“It’s been very frustrating,’’ he said. “I never had a serious injury until I got to Philly. It was new to me. I’ve been playing football since I was eight years old. I just need to have a healthy season.’’
Darby, a second-round pick of the Bills in 2015, had an outstanding rookie season. He held the receivers he covered to 11.6 yards per catch. His 21 passes defensed were the fourth most in the league.
But he didn’t play nearly as well the next year, and has missed significant chunks of the last two seasons.
That said, if Darby hadn’t shredded his knee last November, he likely would’ve cashed in big in free agency, getting either a multi-year deal from the Eagles with a lot of guaranteed money, or one from somebody else when he became a free agent.
A few other teams expressed interest in him. The Kansas City Chiefs brought him in for a visit. But ultimately, he decided to take the Eagles’ one-year offer.
“I always wanted to come back,’’ Darby said. “It’s hard to walk away from a place like this. At the end of the day, I’m where I belong, rain or shine.’’
The one-year deal essentially gives Darby a free agent do-over next year. If he stays healthy and plays up to his capabilities this season, he’ll get another crack at a long-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money.
“I’d love to be back here after the one-year deal,’’ he said. “I love it here. I had two back-to-back injuries, which played a huge role in things. But if I have a healthy year, I can go out there and make plays and we’ll see.’’
The Eagles’ secondary was ravaged by injuries last season. Their defensive backs missed 39 games because of injury. Rodney McLeod, one of their starting safeties, missed 13 games (torn ACL). Their two starting corners, Darby and Jalen Mills (foot), each missed eight, in addition to both playoff games.
Cornerback Sidney Jones, whom the Eagles took in the second round of the 2017 draft, missed seven games (hamstring). Rookie corner/safety Avonte Maddox missed three (hamstring).
A week after Darby went down, the Eagles found themselves trying to stop Drew Brees and the Saints with little-used backups (Rasul Douglas), former practice-squadders (Chandon Sullivan, De’Vante Bausby), and guys they had just claimed off the street (Cre’Von LeBlanc) in their secondary. Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-7 Eagles loss.
LeBlanc turned out to be a helluva find by the personnel department. His play in the slot down the stretch was a big reason the Eagles made the playoffs. And Douglas had two interceptions in the last four games and had at least one tackle for loss in five straight games.
The unflappable 5-foot-9, 185-pound Maddox played well at both corner and safety. Along with a healthy McLeod, Mills, Jones and Darby, the back end of Jim Schwartz’s defense looks pretty darn good right now. And we haven’t even gotten to the draft.
Of course, all that depends on them being able to stay healthy, which was something they couldn’t do last year.
“All of the guys who had to play a lot at the end of the year, they were out there making plays,’’ Darby said.
“We have a great [defensive-back] room. No one’s in it for themselves. We’re all in it for each other. I know everybody says that. But we care for one another. That’s why we go out there and play hard through the ups and downs.