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Former Bengals cornerback/return man Darius Phillips heads to Raiders

Darius Phillips gets a fresh start on a prove-it deal with the Raiders.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The free agency period is as much a time for players who have fallen out of favor with their original team to try and revive their careers somewhere else. It isn’t all just the big-name guys getting paid.

We are now officially going to see cornerback Darius Phillips suiting up somewhere else after spending his first four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is headed to the Las Vegas Raiders on a one-year $2.25 million deal.

Phillips was a fifth-round selection back in the 2018 NFL draft. He was taken during the last Marvin Lewis era draft class that seemed to have promise from top to bottom.

Now, the only remaining players are defensive end Sam Hubbard and safety Jessie Bates.

Phillips seemed to have tons of promise early in his career. He looked dynamic as a punt returner compared to Alex Erickson. He also flashed excellence as a cornerback with three interceptions in the final two games of the 2019 season.

However, 2020 and especially 2021 Phillips never seemed to build on that. He only recorded one interception in 2020 while playing over 500 snaps. Interceptions certainly aren’t the best way to measure a corner, but he was viewed as a ballhawk after 2019. It was an aspect the defense really needed to build on, so that was disappointing. More importantly he started getting burned in 2020. In his limited time he gave up five touchdowns along with allowing over 50 percent of passes in his direction to be completed.

The 2021 offseason showed the Bengals weren’t going to bank on Phillips. They added veterans like Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Eli Apple along with Trae Waynes returning from injury. Even with Waynes going down with another injury, Phillips couldn’t beat out Apple for the starting corner spot. That was a surprise to start the season. Of course, Apple went on to have a very good season.

That left Phillips as only the punt returner. He managed to beat out Trent Taylor in camp to keep his job. However, his return ability didn’t translate to game day. In 2021, he returned 25 punts for 177 yards. 7.1 yards per punt return isn’t great, but what was worse was his ball security. He fumbled four times in 2021 alone (only losing two).

Everything became clear during Week 13, though. Against the San Francisco 49ers, he muffed two punts, which led directly to 10 points in a game the Bengals lost by only a field goal in overtime. He suffered an injury in the same game, but even when he eventually became healthy, it was clear Phillips’ time as a Bengal was over.

He now has an opportunity to show that he is capable of making an NFL roster as either a cornerback or returner. Both sides clearly are better off with a fresh start.

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