DENVER -- For the Broncos defense to turn the corner, it needed a corner. Or two.
Monday, general manager George Paton landed a starter in free agency, agreeing in principle on a three-year, $30-million deal with Ronald Darby, per sources.
The contract includes $19.5 million guaranteed. It represents an interesting gamble by the Broncos. Darby has proven effective in man coverage during his career with Buffalo, Philadelphia and Washington. However, he has dealt with leg injuries. Last season was his first logging 16 games, and coach Vic Fangio's employs more zone coverage.
Darby signed a one-year deal with Washington after an ACL tear spoiled his time in Philadephia. Darby bet on himself and was rewarded. Last season with Washington, he delivered 600 snaps for the first time. At 5-foot-11, 193 pounds, Darby boasts the agility and quickness to play all types of receivers. He isn't considered a ballhawk with only eight interceptions in 73 games.
The plan is to play Darby outside, leaving Bryce Callahan as the slot if the Broncos sign another corner or draft one in the first two rounds.
The Broncos are betting on good health and the continued play he demonstrated last season. Pro Football Focus ranked Darby as the 68th best free agent and 13th among corners. The addition of Darby was necessary as the Broncos look to revamp their secondary.
Free safety Justin Simmons represents the cornerstone whether he plays on the franchise tag or secures a long-term deal (both sides are motivated to get something done). However, there is no guarantee strong safety Kareem Jackson returns -- the Broncos must decide on his $1.5 million contract option on Tuesday -- and they needed corner help. Callahan played at a Pro Bowl level, but lasted only 10 games when a foot injury shortened his third consecutive season.
Michael Ojemudia showed flashes as a rookie, though could use more seasoning. With Darby projected in the fold, it does not preclude the Broncos from drafting a cornerback in the first two rounds or even signing another veteran on a cheaper deal. It also provides protection for injury with Callahan and nickel back Essang Bassey (ACL injury in November).