Key free-agent signing gave Jaguars ample flexibility in 2024 NFL Draft

• CB was one of the Jaguars' biggest needs in the draft.

• They waited until Round 3 to address it.

• Ethan Waugh says it's because of a key signing in FA.

Jacksonville Jaguars assistant general manager Ethan Waugh talks with the media before the start of
Jacksonville Jaguars assistant general manager Ethan Waugh talks with the media before the start of / Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY

The Jacksonville Jaguars released Darious Williams before the start of free agency. They signed Ronald Darby to replace him. Assistant general manager Ethan Waugh says that adding Darby to their cornerback room gave the Jags flexibility in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Waugh told the media on Day 1 of rookie minicamp that they see Darby as a starter, pointing out that having him around allows the team to bring their younger cornerbacks along slowly.

"He's just starting in a full corner and he's starting an NFL corner from a good program and he can still run," Waugh said when asked if signing Darby played a role in their draft strategy. "He's still a talented guy and he's a pro in every aspect. Having him means that we don't have to take a corner that has to start Day 1. It's it's certainly somebody that we can throw in the mix and make a competition right and whoever wins wins but I don't think it's one of those where you're completely devoid of depth there."

Darby, a second-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2014, signed a two-year deal with the Jaguars in free agency. He cites his relationship with head coach Doug Pederson during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles as a reason for choosing Jacksonville over other teams. The former Florida State Seminole has also suited up for the Washington Commanders, the Denver Broncos, and the Baltimore Ravens.

In Jacksonville, Darby is expected to start opposite Tyson Campbell come Week 1. While he gives the Jags a veteran option, there's also a chance he could be phased out in favor of rookie Jarrian Jones as the year progresses.

Even if Darby hasn't lost a step, he sat out 13 games the past two seasons. And if he misses time in 2024, there's no guarantee he'll get his job back. On the other hand, he's surrendered just one touchdown reception in that span, so it's fair to say that he's still going strong heading into Year 10.

Whether Ronald Darby thrives or not, the Jaguars have options at CB

While the Jaguars deserve a bit of scrutiny for not prioritizing the cornerback position, their strategy makes sense, at least on paper. Leaving aside that signing Ronald Darby was cheaper than keeping Darious Williams, waiting until the third round to take Jarrian Jones let the team's brass take care of other needs.

And with Ronald Darby taking one starting spot, Jones doesn't have to be thrust into action until he's ready. Once he is, they can plug him into the starting lineup. When you take into account that Darby has only played a full season in his career, that could be sooner rather than later.

For the sake of argument, let's say that Jones or fellow rookie Deantre Prince fails to show out. The Jags can prioritize the cornerback position early in the 2025 draft. Whether the plan works or not, Darby gives Jacksonville a safety net.

In the end, the Jaguars signed Ronald Darby because he still has gas left in the tank. It also helps that his presence gave them options in the draft.

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