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Free Agent Spotlight: CB Ronald Darby

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Can the cap-strapped Bucs lure the talented player from Philly?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs constantly seem to be in need of help in the defensive backfield.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a follower of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then you know how the team needs help in the defensive backfield - especially at cornerback.

This may come as a surprise considering how much they’ve invested in the position over the recent years, but unfortunately those investments haven’t really worked out.

Whether it be due to injury, inconsistency, or just all-around bad play, the lack of playmakers at the position have hamstrung the Bucs.

The Bucs also have another issue when it comes to the position: money. The team barely has any money after signing a few free agents on Tuesday. Always remember, the Bucs will have to set aside a certain amount for the draft class as well.

One player that could be on Tampa Bay’s radar is Ronald Darby. He would be expensive, but would it be worth bringing him in?

RONALD DARBY’S CAREER

Drafted in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Florida State, Darby earned the starting job opposite of Stephon Gilmore his rookie year. The Buffalo Bills instantly reaped the rewards, as he recorded six combined tackles, two passes defensed, and an interception in the season-opener against the Indianapolis Colts. He would finish out his rookie season as Pro Football Focus’ Defensive Rookie of the Year.

He would go on to start 14 games in 2016, but failed to record an interception. The Bills then traded Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick during the subsequent offseason.

Darby’s career has been up and down in Philadelphia. He is considered the Eagles’ best corner but has started in just 17 games over the past two seasons after starting in 29 games the first two years of his career.

A dislocated ankle (2017) and a torn ACL (2018) have been the main culprits for Darby’s recent injury history. How effective he can be remains to be seen, but until then, let’s just focus on what he has done thus far.

Darby’s main trait would be his speed. He finished third in the 200M at the 2011 World Youth Championships in Athletics and ran a 4.38 at the NFL Combine in 2015.

He is a fast, athletic corner who has very good quickness, change of direction, and flexibility. He is suited for a man coverage scheme, but also excels in off-man.

Ahhh, that old scheme that Bucs’ fans are all too familiar with: off-man coverage. Even though Tampa Bay is likely moving away from the off-man scheme with new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Darby is versatile enough to play in just about any scheme.

Darby’s career totals are as follows: 46 games, 219 total tackles, 37 passes defensed, and 6 INT. He allowed 190 receptions on 333 attempts, good for a 57.1 percent completion rate. Quarterbacks average an 84.5 rating when targeting him for his career, per PFF.

WHY THE BUCCANEERS NEED HIM

Well, it’s pretty obvious - the cornerback position is questionable at best.

There’s still a chance that the young core can come through and save the defensive backfield, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a veteran like Darby come in and help guide the youngsters.

The quartet of Carlton Davis, Vernon Hargreaves III, Ryan Smith, and M.J. Stewart have a combined 59 starts of NFL experience, compared to Darby’s 46 games. Those are the top four corners on the Bucs’ current roster for the 2019 season.

They also have a combined two career interceptions - yes, you read that right - compared to Darby’s six career picks. It’s pretty clear that Darby would provide an upgrade to the position.

He’d also provide flexibility, which is what was aforementioned in the previous talking point. Having a versatile corner like Darby would allow the other corners to grow into their best-suited skill sets, which would also allow for (hoped) accelerated growth in the younger players.

The trickle-down effect could be very beneficial and there’s no telling how much this defense could improve with competent play on at least one side of the field.

WHAT WILL DARBY COST?

Obviously, the Bucs don’t have much cap room to be a player in free agency this year. Spotrac.com has his 2019 salary estimated at $10.8 million per year, which would make him the 13th-highest paid cornerback in the NFL in terms of a per-year basis.

Unfortunately, Tampa Bay has no money to spend in free agency. There is still a chance the team could cut some players to create some cap room, but some of that money will have to be allocated toward the 2019 draft and the rest may be needed to sign players (like Jameis Winston) to larger contracts after this season.

Plus general manager Jason Licht most likely still has faith in the young corners currently on the roster, which isn’t unreasonable, either.

WILL IT HAPPEN?

Nope. The Eagles have already stated they want Darby back in a bad way. While he says he is keeping his options open, a reunion seems very likely.

Plus, Tampa Bay simply doesn’t have the money to even entertain Darby. While cornerback remains a position of need, the stars aren’t aligning for this one.

The Bucs will obviously go with what they have or try and draft a cornerback in April. Regardless of the scenario, Darby likely won’t be a part of it.