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Washington signs former Lion & Jet Darryl Roberts as CB depth

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Contract details

Daryl Roberts is an established NFL cornerback, but lives in that hazy region of being not-quite-a-starter but more than just depth...a solid backup with the ability to start if needed. In this respect, he’s probably the perfect replacement for Fabian Moreau, who just left in free agency.

I researched Roberts in 2019 when he reached free agency the first time, and I’m struck by the similarities between what Jets fans said at that time, and what Lions fans have said this off-season.

Jets, 2019

This is from Jets Wire two years ago:

Darryl Roberts found himself in the spotlight several times throughout the 2018 season. Now that the corner is a free agent, the Jets will have to seriously consider bringing back one of their most important backups.

Heading into 2018, Roberts sat far back on the depth chart behind Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine. But as the season progressed and injuries mounted, Roberts was forced into starting roles and performed admirably given his limited experience. By year’s end, Roberts was starting at free safety alongside Jamal Adams when Marcus Maye suffered a season-ending injury. For the season, Roberts finished with 48 combined tackles, seven defended passes and one interception.

Roberts should be relatively cheap given his experience and skill level. Since he was drafted by the Patriots in the seventh round of the 2015 draft, Roberts has only made $2.205 million over his career and only $705,000 in 2018. However, because his versatility on defense and special teams, Roberts could see a contract between $1-3 million, though it would probably be closer to the lower end.

Roberts proved his ability to perform in any situation whenever the Jets needed him. Did he play at an All-Pro level? Absolutely not. While Roberts played better than Johnson at times, he didn’t turn around the Jets leaky secondary and was a liability in coverage on several occasions.

His relatively cheap price tag, versatility and comfortability on the team make Roberts a solid option for a second contract, though. He also graded out as the second-best cornerback on the team behind Johnson and ahead of Claiborne and Skrine. He shouldn’t start for the Jets, but Roberts would provide a stable and relatively young player on the bench who can fill into any role on the defense when he’s called upon.

Roberts actually did re-sign with the Jets in 2019 on a 3-year, $18m contract, but was released after a single season.

He signed a one-year deal with the Lions late in free agency last year (he signed in April).

Lions, 2021

This is from the Pride of Detroit, published about a month ago:

The Detroit Lions could see a lot of change in their secondary in 2021. With the defense now led by a former Pro Bowl cornerback, there will be a very specific vision in mind for Detroit’s defensive backs, and that could mean some tough decisions on the horizon for players from the 2020 squad.

One of those players is cornerback Darryl Roberts. The veteran cornerback is set to become a free agent when the league year starts in mid-March. While his 2020 season wasn’t very successful in Detroit, there is a logical pathway for Roberts to return to the team on another short-term deal.

[In 2020] Roberts was expected to take on a depth role, seeing as Desmond Trufant, Jeff Okudah, and Justin Coleman were expected to be the starters out of training camp. However, with skills as both an inside and outside cornerback, as well as some special teams experience, Roberts had more than enough value to land a spot on the 53-man roster.

Almost immediately, the Lions cornerbacks were decimated by injury. Justin Coleman was placed on injured reserve after Week 1. Desmond Trufant missed five of his first seven games of the season. Jeff Okudah entered the season on a bum hamstring.

So Roberts was tested immediately, and it didn’t go particularly well. Playing mostly at the nickel position, Roberts allowed a passer rating of 109.6 in 2020 per PFF and his overall grade of 54.3 ranked 95th among 121 qualifying corners. He also did not contribute much on special teams.

However, it’s worth noting that none of the Lions’ cornerbacks played particularly well, which brings into question coaching development and scheme decisions. Among all Lions cornerbacks with significant snaps on defense, Roberts’ PFF grade was actually the highest.

In a normal offseason, the Lions and Roberts would likely go their separate ways after an unsuccessful pairing in 2020, but there’s reason to believe Detroit may want to bring him back.

[H]e’ll come cheap. If the Lions were able to sign him to a one-year, $2 million deal last year, it stands to reason they can bring back the 30-year-old corner on a cheaper deal this season.

How Roberts fits in Washington

Darryl Roberts is a very flexible defensive back. In 2020 alone, he took 234 snaps as slot corner and 195 snaps a boundary corner. He also lined up for snaps in every phase of special teams: punt coverage, punt returns, kickoff coverage, kickoff return, and FG/PAT units.

As you can see from his 2019 profile above, he’s capable of playing free safety — in fact, per PFF, Roberts lined up as a free safety for 291 snaps in 2018.

With Fuller and WJ3 seemingly locked in as the starting boundary corners, and Jimmy Moreland looking like the best of the young DBs on the Football Team, adding someone with Darryl Roberts’ experience and flexibility looks like a good move, especially given that as a late signing in the 2021 free agency period, he is likely to be signed to a budget deal.

He played his 2020 season, at the age of 30, on a deal that gave him a $500k signing bonus, had a base of $1m and per-game roster bonuses of $500k, giving him a cap number of just under $2m. His price is unlikely to have gone up after a season that was below expectations in which he spent a month (early November to early December) on IR and played in 11 games.

Roberts isn’t a lock for a roster spot, but I think he’s likely to compete with the likes of Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson. Though Roberts is a little older at 30, his game experience and positional flexibility likely give him an advantage, at least over Stroman, who doesn’t play a key role on special teams. I’d say that Washington is now in a position to grab a young cornerback in the draft, but that the front office can afford to wait until the right guy is available at the pick.

The current top of the depth chart at CB:

  • Kendall Fuller
  • William Jackson III
  • Jimmy Moreland
  • Darryl Roberts
  • Danny Johnson
  • Greg Stroman
  • Cole Luke