ENGLEWOOD — As Ronald Darby talked Thursday, his edge came into focus. He was delighted the Broncos signed him — a three-year, $30 million contract with $19.5 million guaranteed — and he is ready to reward them.
"I haven’t made it to a Pro Bowl yet. I haven’t been All-Pro yet," Darby said when I asked what he wanted to prove. "Those are things I want to do."
How much easier would that be if joined by a partner who lists those accomplishments on his resume? The Broncos continue seeking more cornerback help, and have turned their attention to Kyle Fuller, released by the Bears on Thursday night.
Fuller, 29, immediately becomes one of the top free agents available. However, this interest traces not only to his play, but his past. Fuller played three years for Broncos coach Vic Fangio in Chicago. He delivered an All-Pro season in 2018, posting seven interceptions and 21 passes defensed.
Facing budget choices and multiple roster needs, the Bears made Fuller a casualty, saving $11 million in salary cap space. Fuller was in the final season of a four-year contract and was in line for a $14 million salary this season.
News of his potential release began to trickle out on Wednesday. With no trade possible — teams were not going to deal for a player they believed correctly would be cut — the Bears moved on.
Now, can the Broncos move in, giving Fangio the type of weapons defensively that landed him the Denver head coaching job? In his final year in Chicago, Fangio's defense led the NFL with 36 takeaways, including 27 interceptions.
Pairing Darby with Fuller on the outside and Bryce Callahan — another former Chicago Bear — in the slot would give the Broncos ballhawks with range and coverage versatility. It would also complement the pressure created by Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Shelby Harris and Dre'Mont Jones.
The Broncos would have to make the money work. They saved $10 million by cutting safety Kareem Jackson this week — the door to his return is not entirely closed, Jackson said — and are making progress on a long-term deal with free safety Justin Simmons. Getting that done would dramatically reduce Simmons' cap hit — he's scheduled to make $13.7 million on the franchise tag. A long-term deal with left tackle Garett Bolles, for instance, lowered his cap hit to $5 million in 2021.
It also opens up multiple avenues with the ninth overall pick in the draft. As it stands, taking a cornerback like Patrick Surtain II or Caleb Farley is the most often mocked scenario. Add Fuller, and corner would not remain a priority, leaving the Broncos to potentially address needs at quarterback — general manager George Paton said he plans to attend more QB Pro Days in the coming days — linebacker or tackle.
In the Broncos' first two seasons under Fangio, the cornerbacks struggled with ineffectiveness and injuries. The Broncos produced 33 takeaways, ranking 29th last season with 16.
Fuller, who has 19 career interceptions, figures to have multiple suitors — the Rams and Packers come to mind — in free agency. Will the pull of playing for Fangio again make a difference? The Broncos are expressing interest and appear determined to find out.