Bears a Top Destination for $30 Million Super Bowl Champion CB

Ronald Darby, Broncos

Getty Cornerback Ronald Darby, formerly of the Denver Broncos, lines up for a play during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders in October 2022.

The Chicago Bears are far from set in the secondary and a veteran difference maker remains available for the taking in free agency.

Ronald Darby has been a starting cornerback since his career began as a second-round pick (No. 50 overall) of the Buffalo Bills in 2015, including in every game he’s played over the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos as a member of one of the league’s premier defenses.

Despite a wealth of experience that includes a Super Bowl ring with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, Darby won’t turn 30 years old until January 2024. Given his age and résumé, it’s hard to figure how Darby is still available with training camps just around the corner — until his injury history comes up in discussion.

Darby suffered an ACL tear last October that has sidelined him since and resulted in Denver releasing him in March to save $9.6 million against its salary cap. While the injury renders Darby a considerable risk, it also lowers his price point and makes him a sensible fit for a team like the Bears who have an incomplete secondary and more than $32 million in remaining cap space.

Ronald Darby Was Elite in Coverage With Broncos in 2022

49ers Broncos Trade Garoppolo

GettyFormer Denver Broncos cornerback Ronald Darby breaks up a pass during an NFL game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Darby signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Broncos in 2021 after a healthy season in Washington that saw him defend 16 passes in 16 starts and surrender a collective completion percentage of just 54.1% to opposing quarterbacks, per Pro Football Reference.

But the cornerback’s health didn’t hold once he landed in Denver. Darby appeared in fewer than half of the Broncos’ regular season games over the next two years, playing in and starting 16 out of a possible 34 contests.

The ACL tear robbed him of the final 11 games of the campaign, marking the third time in the last six years that Darby failed to register double-digit appearances during a regular season. Two of the three years during that stretch in which he has hit double digits, Darby capped out at 11 total games played.

While that all might sound like more of an argument for the Bears not to pursue Darby, there is a value play to be made by inking him to a one- or two-year contract. The cornerback played in 29 of 32 contests across his first two seasons in the league and has spent the last eight months rehabilitating his knee. He should be available on a relatively cheap contract, the terms of which Chicago will have the leverage to dictate.

Beyond that, Darby was exceptional in 2022 when he was on the field. He recorded 14 tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble, as well as held opposing quarterbacks to a combined completion percentage of 38.9% and a rating of 69.9 on 17 targets. Darby afforded opposing offenses just 73 yards gained through the air and one touchdown.

If the cornerback can muster 12 starts, give or take, in 2023 and produce a similar stat line, he will be worth considerably more to the Bears than whatever contract number it ultimately takes to sign him.

Ronald Darby Can Meaningfully Help Bears Secondary if Healthy


GettyCornerback Ronald Darby, formerly of the Denver Broncos, tackles wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., formerly of the Cleveland Browns, during an NFL game.

Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report on Tuesday, June 13, named Darby the sixth-best available free agent under 30 years old. He was also the top cornerback on the list and the second highest-rated defensive back behind safety John Johnson III, most recently of the Cleveland Browns.

Darby hasn’t been a fringe starter. At his best, he was among one of the NFL’s better players in coverage. Big plays have never been his thing (eight career interceptions), and durability has been an issue at times … but in each of the past three seasons Darby has posted a passer rating against of less than 85. Before getting hurt last year, Darby was playing some of the best football of his career.

Darby isn’t going to land the sort of contract the Broncos gave him back in 2021 … but if he can show his rehab is progressing well, there are a number of teams who would benefit from a steadying veteran presence in the secondary.

Chicago clearly numbers among those teams, as ESPN currently lists cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Tyrique Stevenson as the team’s two starters. Stevenson is a second-round rookie out of Miami who has yet to play a snap in the NFL, while Johnson is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie deal and has yet to sign an extension after tallying just one interception in his professional career.

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