Ronald Darby understands how the NFL works: Every year there’s something to prove. He knew that when he was came into the league as a second-round draft pick in 2015, saw it again when he was traded two years later and even got a reminder after winning a Super Bowl in 2018.
But nothing could have hammered home the lesson more than each of his last two offseasons.
When the former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback hit free agency last month, he signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Washington Redskins that amounted to a $4.5 million pay cut from what he was earning last season.
“Of course I feel like I’ve got a lot more to prove due to the fact this is my second one-year deal and things like that,” Darby said.
The “things like that” include a lengthy injury history, one of the biggest reasons teams were reluctant to commit big money to the 26-year-old.
Over the last three seasons, Darby has missed 20 of 48 games and has yet to play a full 16-game slate in the NFL. He’s also coming off arguably his worst season as he gave up 39 receptions on 62 targets for 664 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
But Washington provides an opportunity to get his career back on track.
After trading starter Quinton Dunbar to the Seattle Seahawks, the Redskins brought on Darby as part of an overhaul. Washington’s unit could see as many as five new starters by Week 1: cornerback (Darby, Kendall Fuller), safety (Sean Davis), linebacker (Thomas Davis) and possibly defensive end (Chase Young?).
Darby will have to compete, but he said he’s grateful for the chance, especially considering he joined his hometown team.
“I’m from the DMV area, so I grew up a Redskins fan,” the Oxon Hill, Maryland, native said. “Just to come back home to play for the team I grew up loving is really something huge. I get to go against my old teammates twice a year, so that’ll be fun.”
Darby said he wasn’t surprised that the free agency market for his services was limited. He said last year was tough for him, and he was still feeling the rust from the torn ACL he suffered in 2018. He also injured his hamstring and hip, the latter of which caused the Eagles to shut him down in December.
But when asked about his ability to perform at a high level, Darby expressed confidence that he was still that type of player. With the Bills, Darby was once viewed as one of the premier young corners in the league — and the Eagles were widely praised for the trade.
And Darby is still young enough to improve.
“You can’t always have excuses,” Darby said. “I know that I can be the person that I am, that I’ve shown.”
With the Redskins, Darby joins a secondary that will compete for playing time. Fabian Moreau, Jimmy Moreland, Danny Johnson, Fuller and Greg Stroman all have starting experience, but not all of them will see the field.
Darby, though, says he’s now healthy. Before the coronavirus pandemic forced gyms to close, the cornerback worked on his strength and balance, focusing on his stride as well. Part of Darby’s focus is taking care of his body to avoid further injury, he said.
Darby doesn’t know yet what role he’ll play for the Redskins, but he expects to make impact plays. He said he’s always respected Redskins coach Ron Rivera.
He said he knows how Rivera’s defenses tend to perform historically — and what that means in the long run.
“Corners that have played in his defense got paid,” Darby said.
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