In a surprising move, the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday abruptly released starting strong safety Donovin Darius, a nine-year veteran who started more games on defense than anyone in franchise history.
Darius, 31, is still rehabilitating from a broken right ankle that limited him to 10 games last season. Although he was unable to participate in the team's offseason program this spring, as he continued his recovery, it was believed that Darius was making good progress and was on pace to be ready for training camp.
"It was a shock the way it happened," Darius said at a news
conference. "But at the same time, I've been around this business
long enough to understand the nature of this business."
The Jaguars informed Darius on Thursday morning that they planned to rely on younger players at safety and apprised him of his release. There likely was a financial consideration as well, since Darius had two seasons remaining on his contract and was due base salaries of $3.5 million in 2007 and $4 million in '08.
The move means Darius will immediately become a free agent when his name officially appears on the NFL's internal transactions document Thursday afternoon. It also means that Jacksonville will go into the season minus both starting safeties from a defense which statistically ranked 10th in the league in '06. Starting free safety Deon Grant signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent earlier this spring.
"Donovin Darius is an outstanding human being," Jaguars' coach Jack Del Rio said on Thursday afternoon. "I have a great deal of respect for who he is on and off the field. He was a ferocious center fielder for us for a number of years, a guy that you definitely offensively had to account for."
"We have elected at this time as an organization to move forward and to allow him to pursue other opportunities," Del Rio said. "We have let him know that and like I said, [we have] a great deal of respect and admiration for the man and for the player he was here as a Jacksonville Jaguar, but we have made that decision to move on."
If he is healthy, or if other teams agree that he will be ready for the start of training camp next month, Darius should generate plenty of interest on the open market.
Third-year veteran Gerald Sensabaugh, whose résumé includes eight career starts and who is admired by the coaches for his physical style, is projected as one starting safety. Jacksonville chose former Florida safety Reggie Nelson in the first round of this spring's draft, and he will likely be the other starter. The Jaguars also added safety Josh Gattis in the fifth round of the 2007 draft and like his potential.
Darius was the Jaguars' first-round choice in the 1998 draft and the former Syracuse star became an immediate starter with the team. He appeared in 115 games, all starts, and had a franchise-record 846 tackles, along with two sacks, 14 interceptions, 35 passes defensed, eight forced fumbles and six recoveries.
Darius was noted more as a run defender early in his career, when his pass coverage skills were viewed as a liability and he was more effective playing close to the line of scrimmage. But he became far better on pass defense in recent seasons. Only twice in nine seasons, though, did Darius have more than three interceptions in a season. He totaled 100 or more tackles six different times.
Darius was twice named as a franchise player in free agency and that seemed to reflect his value to the Jaguars at the time, and he is a two-time Pro Bowl alternate. But he played in just 12 games the past two seasons, and the recent injury history likely contributed to the decision to release him. In 2005, Darius missed all but two games after an anterior cruciate injury. Then, in 2006, he fractured his right ankle in a late November game.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.