A day after three-time Pro Bowl selection Marlon Humphrey underwent foot surgery that’s likely to keep him sidelined through the start of the season, the Ravens have added an experienced option to a depleted cornerback group.
General manager Eric DeCosta signed former Denver cornerback Ronald Darby to a one-year deal that’s worth $1.75 million in base salary with an additional $1.5 million that can be earned through incentives, according to The Athletic. The 29-year-old is just 10 months removed from a torn ACL suffered last October, which largely explains why he was still available despite meeting with multiple teams this offseason.
A 2015 second-round pick out of Florida State, Darby has started 88 games and intercepted eight passes over an eight-year career spent with Buffalo, Philadelphia, Washington, and the Broncos. Widely regarded as a quality starter when healthy, the 5-foot-11, 193-pound defensive back has played in more than 11 games just once in the last six seasons, which won’t quell the injury concerns Baltimore already has at the position with multiple players sidelined.
Second-year cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis did return to practice Thursday and projected starter Rock Ya-Sin is expected to resume practicing in the near future after hurting his knee at the beginning of the month, but the Ravens already had a shortage of experienced outside corners even before Humphrey underwent surgery, making Darby an appealing addition if he’s fully recovered from last year’s knee injury. With both Humphrey and Ya-Sin out, Baltimore has been using 2021 third-round pick Brandon Stephens — a hybrid defensive back who was focusing on safety in the spring and at the start of training camp — and veteran special-teams standout Kevon Seymour as its first-team corners in recent practices.
“The expectation is to come in and to produce and execute and play the way that we play,” said defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald before the Ravens agreed to terms with Darby on Thursday. “We’ll take it one day at a time. I’m sure there will be pieces moving from here — between now and when we get kicked off — and [we’ll] see where we’re at. But right now, we’re just trying to figure out where to put all the spots, and I think [it’ll] come into clear focus as the season approaches.”
The Ravens drafted outside cornerback Kyu Kelly in the fifth round of this year’s draft, but he didn’t play until well into the second half of the preseason opener, which wasn’t a promising sign for his readiness to play as a rookie. Before training camp, Baltimore also lost Trayvon Mullen — who had shown promise during spring workouts — to a toe injury that’s likely to keep him out for the entire season.
The situation at nickel corner isn’t quite as dire, but 2022 fourth-round pick Damarion Williams recently underwent ankle surgery that’s expected to keep him out until at least October and former Pittsburgh slot cornerback Arthur Maulet — who signed with the Ravens in late July — has missed time with a strained hamstring. Macdonald has also taken a long look at third-year safety Ar’Darius Washington at the nickel position this summer, but he could still turn to starting safety Kyle Hamilton to move into that role in certain situations after he played well there as a rookie last year.
Of course, moving Hamilton back to the slot would likely mean more playing time for reserve safety Geno Stone in sub packages.
“With Kyle, it’s a function of how much we want to move him around on a per-play basis,” Macdonald said. “It’s not easy going from one position to another. If you can package it to make it a little cleaner [for him] and whoever fills in for his role — if and when we do move him — that’s something else that we’re considering as well. It’s not just Kyle that we’re considering when you talk about moving him.”