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Ronald Darby says the “Eagles really want me to stay where I’m at”

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Is he going to be back in Philly?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles took care of one of their impending free agents earlier this month by signing Brandon Graham to a three-year contract extension. Is Ronald Darby the next player to get a new deal?

It sure sounds like it’s at least possible. Speaking with NFL insider Ian Rapoport in a recent “RapSheet + Friends” podcast appearance, Darby said the Eagles want him back. Rapoport also made it sound like the Eagles previously tried to sign Darby to an extension. Transcript below:

RAPOPORT: Tell me, what’s your mindset, what’s next week [free agency] going to be like?

DARBY: My mindset right now is continue to work, continue to rehab. We’re just preparing for Week 1. And just see how everything plays out. I’m just playing everything by ear. You know, [the] Eagles really want me to stay where I’m at, so, me and my agent, we’re just playing everything out.

RAPOPORT: Now, you mentioned the Eagles want you to stay. I know they made a hard push during the season. Tell me what your thoughts are on the Eagles in general and obviously the success you’ve had there, and what would it be like if you ended up staying?

DARBY: I love it here. It’s one of the best sports city, I feel like, in the whole United States. I love it here a lot. I won a Super Bowl here. That’s something that’s never been done. Last year we made it to the playoffs, I was hurt by that time, but we made it back to the playoffs, made another strong push. There’s a lot of talent on this team. So, you know, it’d be a blessing to be able to stay here. But, at the end of the day, you gotta do what’s right.

RAPOPORT: The Eagles obviously traded for you, I know they would like to keep you. Considering you’ve moved teams once, is there something about you where you’d say, ‘I’d really like to stay’ or are you really pretty open heading into next week?

DARBY: I’m pretty much open. Yeah, pretty much open. Of course you would love to stay. No one wants to keep moving from city to city. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to be open. You’ve got to have that open mindset.

RAPOPORT: You mentioned rehab, the knee — the ACL, a clean tear — cut short the season. I’ve seen the pictures you posted on social media. It seems like it’s going well. Update everyone where your knee is at and where you are health-wise.

DARBY: I’m doing real good. I’m hitting my marks. I’m getting stronger. I’m jumping. Running in the RTG. Everything feels good. I feel real good. Working muscles I normally don’t work. We work glute every day. And I’m going to be ready by Week 1, so that’s the goal. Back by Week 1 and that’s what I’m headed to.

RAPOPORT: You’re going to have your suitors, your choice of teams. You’re obviously a very coveted free agent in this market. When it comes down to it, what’s going to be the deciding factor for you when picking a team? What’s the one thing you want out of this?

DARBY: Really, to feel like a priority. I want to be with a team that wants to win, of course. Everything has got to be right financially at the end of the day.

Heading into this offseason, my expectation was that the Eagles were going to let Darby walk in free agency. It turns out I wasn’t alone:

My mindset was that his price is going to be higher than the Eagles can reasonably afford. The free agent market is thin at corner and Darby, a 2015 second-round pick, only turned 25 in January. The only chance of Darby returning, in my mind, was if his market dried up since he’s coming off an ACL injury.

But things I’ve heard more recently have led me to believe a Darby return is more possible than previously thought. This is surprising in part because the Eagles already have a lot of talented youth at corner. Philadelphia’s defense also managed to have success without him late in the 2018 season.

Still, the Eagles thought highly enough of Darby to trade a 2018 third-round pick and Jordan Matthews for him back in August 2017. The team might really value the fact he’s the most proven and fastest corner on the roster. They might also question the dependability of a player like Sidney Jones, who has only suited up for 28% of possible games to this point in his young career.

Keeping Darby doesn’t figure to be cheap. Spotrac projects his annual value to be worth $13.4 million per year, which seems very high. That’s top eight corner money. A few NFL insiders have recently suggested his value could be closer to $12 million. That’s just outside of top 10 corner money.

Darby’s agent can begin negotiating with other teams as soon as the legal tampering window opens at noon today, Monday, March 11. Again, I can’t help but feel like the Eagles are going to get outbid for Darby’s services. Philadelphia could hope to collect a nice compensatory pick for him in the 2020 NFL Draft if that’s the case.

I just wouldn’t close the door entirely on Darby returning to the Eagles this offseason. We’ll soon see if that’s the case.