Eagles: Assessing the Darius Slay trade

After a quiet start to free agency the Eagles made a trade for former All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay. The Birds are sending a third and fifth round pick to the Lions, on top of agreeing to a 3-year $50 million extension with the 3x pro-bowl corner ($30 million guaranteed).

The Eagles have been linked to Slay for a long time—since the trade deadline—and rumors of a deal were rekindled after the Birds missed out on the top corners in free agency, and the Lions inked his replacement in Desmond Trufant.

Slay has steadily been one of the best corners in football for some time now. From 2014-18 he consistently graded out as a top-five cornerback, and since 2014 he has a coverage grade of 90.5 (good for eighth over that time period). He’s not necessarily a household name as a result of spending his career in Detroit, but he’s a bona fide number one corner. He was a first team All-Pro in 2017 and has racked up 11 interceptions in the past three seasons.

His performance slipped a little in 2019, but there’s no real reason to think that’s the new normal for him. Advanced metrics reveal he got beat pretty bad in press coverage at times, but was the same-old Slay in off-coverage and deep zones. All this indicates to me that his days of being a lockdown, island corner are close to over, but the rest of his game is still there. Additionally, he spent more time than ever in his career playing in the box or lining up in the slot—where he predictably didn’t fare well. These are the reasons why Pro Football Focus suggests he had such a “down year” in 2019, but a deeper analysis reveals that’s not really the case.

Considering Schwartz’s zone-heavy scheme, Slay would fit in well here for the latter part of his prime and career. He’ll only be asked to man-up in single coverage on the opposing teams top-receiver when necessary, and for the most part he won’t be expected to do as much as he has in the past.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking he doesn’t “fit” Schwartz’s scheme—apparently those people are out there? Schwartz literally drafted Slay, and beyond that he’s one of the most style-versatile corners in football, so hopefully we can put that complaint to bed.

His relationship with the Lions had run its course and he’s hoping to find greener pastures here in Philly. I’m not going to continue beating the dead horse that is the Eagles perennially leaky secondary—a secondary that until today, shockingly, had taken another step back after losing Malcolm Jenkins—but Slay is a long overdue and welcome addition to this defense.

The Lions were clear that they wanted a day two pick (round 2/3) and weren’t willing to budge on his value. Though with just a year remaining on his current deal, and taking into consideration his Twitter feed, the Lions didn’t have as much leverage as they had hoped. While obviously holding out for a second rounder, any deal was more likely to include a third and maybe a later round pick if necessary, and that’s what Howie paid here.

The bigger question wasn’t what our trade package would be, but instead how much we were willing to pay Slay, who had been vocal about wanting to be the highest-paid corner in football for some time now. Given his age and perceived slip in play, I didn’t think the front office would be willing to foot such a bill, but they clearly were with Slay locked up through 2023 to the tune of $50 million.

Obviously that’s a lot of money, but if he plays up to his level then it’ll be well worth the cost; and if he starts to fade faster than expected Howie can still get out of the final $20 million. We still need the exact details of the extension, but for a team in desperate need for talent in the secondary this was a fair deal all around.

In terms of looking forward to the secondary in 2020, the coaches like what they saw out of Sidney Jones when he moved to the outside at the end of last season; so he figures to be in line for one of the two outside spots. Ideally, Slay would slot right in across from him and be a mentor of sorts. With Le’Blanc and Maddox both solid in the slot, and McLeod re-signed at free safety, the Birds’ secondary is starting to come together for 2020.


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