When he was hired to succeed John Elway as the GM of the Denver Broncos, George Paton promised to be involved in "every deal" and with Day 1 of the NFL's legal tampering window open, he's lived up to that maxim.
In the afternoon, Paton re-signed homegrown defensive lineman Shelby Harris on a three-year deal and just a few hours later, the news broke of the Broncos inking veteran cornerback Ronald Darby as well.
"Three years, $30 million, including $19.5 million guaranteed for Ronald Darby," ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted.
That's a sizable contract but still significantly less than what the Broncos were on the books to pay A.J. Bouye before Paton wisely cut bait a month ago. The Broncos entered the new league year needing to add two starting-caliber corners to the defense and Darby's arrival checks one of those boxes.
Darby, 5-foot-11, 193 pounds, enters his seventh NFL season. A 2015 second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills out of Florida State, he played well enough his first couple seasons to garner some attention on the trading block, getting dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles for wideout Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick.
After completing the balance of his rookie contract in Philly, Darby took a one-year, $4M deal with the Washington Football Team. With concerns mounting about his inability to stay healthy, he went out in 'prove-it' mode and started all 16 games in Washington, finishing 2020 with 55 tackles (43 solo) and 16 pass break-ups.
Although he wasn't able to notch an interception, Darby had a productive season in Washington. He finished as Pro Football Focus' No. 28-ranked corner with a 69.8 cumulative grade.
According to PFF, Darby relinquished the second-most deep passing yards in the NFL at 328. Conversely, his 20 forced incompletions led the league (PFF's stats are measured differently than NFL official stats).
Despite the injury misgivings and lack of ball production, Darby fits solidly in Vic Fangio's zone-centric match-quarters scheme. And about that 'non-negotiable' cornerback trait Fangio demands? Darby is a more than willing tackler and very sound in that department. This DB won't shy away from supporting the run.
Just turned 27 years old, Darby projects as a starter in Fangio's secondary and in tandem with Bryce Callahan, the Broncos can feel confident in the top two corners on the depth chart. If Michael Ojemudia continues to develop, regardless of what happens on draft day, there's a good chance he opens 2021 as the No. 3 corner on the depth chart.
The Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran reports that Darby was Paton's No. 1 free-agent corner, so to land the player most coveted at the team's most dire position of need is quite a coup. Oftentimes, these things said by executives can be interpreted as 'GM-speak' but in Paton's case, he's a very straight shooter, making one more inclined to believe O'Halloran's report.
It's a safe bet that Coach Fangio was a driving force on the Darby signing so perhaps we'll get more background on what input he may have had on the acquisition in the days ahead. For now, Darby fills an immediate need and gives Paton some flexibility at pick No. 9 in the NFL draft.
Once earmarked as a 'cornerback or bust' situation at pick 9, Paton can now relax somewhat and let the board fall and teams come to him. If the right corner is there, maybe Paton pulls the trigger.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Darby addition indirectly will serve as a harbinger of something a bit more sensational for the Broncos in the top-10 of next month's draft.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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