George Paton's first out-of-house splash as Denver Broncos general manager is drawing the most criticism after the NFL free agency wind-down.
According to Bleacher Report's Alex Kay, who recently listed each team's offseason miss, the addition of cornerback Ronald Darby — he of the three-year, $30 million contract — is Denver's "worst" move of the league's 2021 signing period.
Kay argues that Paton overpaid to satisfy the Broncos' biggest defensive weakness, citing All-Pro CB Kyle Fuller eventually coming aboard at a cheaper cost.
While both are making close to the same amount per year, the decision to give Darby more than a single season is a puzzling one. The defensive back has struggled to put together a pair of consecutive strong campaigns and has dealt with nagging injuries during his six years in the league.
To his credit, Darby entered free agency on the heels of one of his better seasons as a pro, earning a 76.0 grade from PFF and standing out as an excellent defender in man coverage for the Washington Football Team. He saw the field for over 1,000 snaps, accounting for 96 percent of his team's defensive snaps—a huge jump from the 50 percent he saw with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019.
While Darby absolutely deserves accolades for that performance, relying on a corner to maintain a high level of play has burned teams before and could easily cause the Broncos to regret this long-term deal.
Darby, formerly of Philadelphia and Washington, landed $19.5 million guaranteed at the onset of the March 15 legal tampering period. He was one of, if not the Broncos' priority in free agency, a salve to the club's patchwork secondary.
The 27-year-old is considered an ideal fit with head coach/defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Although Darby is not known to create turnovers, he's a sure tackler and stick-to-your-hip cover man who should thrive in Denver's zone-dominant scheme.
"I liked his cover ability," Fangio admitted on March 22. "It's pretty simple when you're looking at corners. Can the guy cover somebody? You need to check that box first and I think he's got natural cover skills, both in man and zone. As a corner, even when you're playing zone, many times it ends up being man anyway. He can cover. We like his cover ability. I think he has good instincts for the game, both in man and zone. I think he's a willing tackler. He alluded to that. I saw a quote from him during his press conference. We still think he has a lot of football left in him. I still think he's young, he's got an athletic body, he can run fast, and I think he's still got a lot of football left in him. We're really happy to get him.”
The red flag on Darby is his availability — or lack thereof. Last year was the only season in his six professional campaigns that he made all 16 appearances; injuries sidelined Darby for 20 games across 2017-19.
It's fair to argue that Paton bid against himself for Darby's services, and consequently paid a premium value. That's OK ... if the Broncos get 2020 Darby. Because, of course, winning makes bad things go away and hides questionable decisions.
Anything short, however, and no commensurate return on investment, this criticism — plus much more — certainly will be warranted.
Follow Zack on Twitter @KelbermanNFL
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