Philadelphia Eagles: Ronald Darby is now a prime franchise tag candidate

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

With Nick Foles now an unrestricted free agent, should the Philadelphia Eagles use their franchise tag to lock up cornerback Ronald Darby?

Yesterday, I wrote an article questioning whether or not Ronald Darby‘s accelerated recovery could cause a Philadelphia Eagles cornerbacks controversy and my ultimate conclusion was that the only way the team could responsibly retain their best top corner from the 2018 season was on a franchise tag, as his long-term viability was simply too risky to invest big, long-term money on.

Boy, what difference a day can make.

Since then, Howie Roseman has made it known that the Eagles do not intend to franchise tag Nick Foles, instead allowing him to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

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Now one could argue whether or not this is the right decision, as Foles was an invaluable piece of the Eagles’ last two playoff berths and he could certainly provide a more immediate tangible return this year in a tag-and-trade, but that is neither here nor there.

While article after article will dissect the situation and try to determine the winners and losers of the move, an inadvertent side effect of the deal provides an interesting opportunity that appeared unavailable to the Eagles: an unused franchise tag.

With Foles free to sign wherever he’d like, Roseman now has the option to retain an impending free agent on a one-year, big money deal, worth the mean of the top-5 players at their position.

That player should be Darby.

As the premier cornerback in the 2019 class, Darby is going to get paid handsomely despite his injury history and could enter the forthcoming season among the 10 highest paid defensive backs in the entire year.

That’s why he’s such an intriguing franchise tag option; Darby is merely too good to walk for free but is too risky to retain on a long-term deal.

When actually available to play, Darby has been a borderline elite defender, with the size, speed, and athleticism to remain competitive against virtually any receiver in the league. However, that hasn’t happened all that often.

Over two seasons in Philadelphia, Darby was only available in 20 games, 11 in 2017 and nine in 2018. When actually available to play, Darby was easily the Eagles’ best cornerback, recording 93 tackles, 18 passes defensed, and four interceptions in 20 games of action.

In 2017, Darby was a vital cog in the Eagles playoff push, starting all three games, and helping to hold the team’s three opponents to an average of 16 points a game.

And in the regular season, Darby was even better.

When Darby was on the field, the Eagles gave up an average 16.63 ppg in 2017 and 19.55 ppg in 2018, noticeable improvements over the 20.25 ppg in 2017, and 22.22 ppg in 2018 when he was off the field. Is that improvement solely based on Darby’s play? Not necessarily, but he certainly helped to bolster the team’s overall play, and give Jim Schwartz optionality in designing sub packages.

That’s the beauty of having a top-flight cornerback on the outside; it makes things easier for the front seven to get the job done.

If allowed to test the open market, Darby is guaranteed to garner a long-term deal with a bunch of guaranteed money by some team desperate for improved secondary play, as he’s just been too good when healthy to pass up.

Next. 3 landing spots for Nick Foles in 2019 free agency. dark

By franchising Darby, the Eagles would receive yet another season to see if Darby can finally get it all together and stay on the field for a full season. If he can, the Eagles may finally have the confidence to lock him into a long-term deal and take a major step towards finally fielding an elite defensive backfield. And if he can’t, then the Eagles will be in the exact same position they are now, but will have had an additional season to, um, season Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, and Sidney Jones.