ESPN’s Adam Schefter cited today that the Detroit Lions have fielded multiple calls about cornerback Darius Slay. This comes on the back of a hypothetical trade-scenario posted by ESPN that had the Eagles trading for the three-time Pro Bowler. But just how interested should they be?
There’s no questioning that the Eagles secondary is facing a total makeover. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are both free agents, and former DB Coach Cory Undlin is now the Lions’ defensive coordinator (remember that for later). The Birds’ are left with a handful of young talent that has struggled to stand out consistently, or at least prove to the coaching staff that they’re ready for a full-time role. Help is on the way, but with Byron Jones likely hitting free agency and a nice draft class, should the Eagles jump the gun?
There is no doubting that Slay is an elite cornerback in the prime of his career. At 29-years old, he’s entering the final year of a contract that will see him carry a cap-hit of $13.4M. This seems pricy, but he is coming off a year where he recorded 2 picks and 10 passes defensed in 12 games played along with 23 solo tackles.
Slay excels in man-coverage, with impressive speed and instincts to feel his way down routes while able to keep an eye on the ball and adjust for its flight path, playing the pigskin as opposed to the receiver and drawing fewer penalties as a result. He’s aggressive at the line-of-scrimmage and is at his best when scanning the field and peeling off his assignment to make a heroic play.
However, his production has dropped over the last few seasons and while this can be attributed to the entire defense struggling to battle against the tide, he has five picks in the last two years combined after a stunning eight in 2017 alone, for instance…a year where he had TWENTY SIX passes defensed (Spoiler: Their defense was bad then as well) The Lions also ranked at the bottom of the league in passing yards, which again is less than ideal but not truly reflective of his play.
Slay allowed a 55% completion percentage in 2019 and a 46.8% in 2018, giving up 9 touchdowns combined in those two years. Not bad…
What we have to bear in mind here is that this would be a one-year rental. Already costing $13.4M against the cap, the incentive would be to sign Slay to a long-term extension. That’s all well and good, but he’s going to want top dollar. And if we compare him to the average salaries of the most expensive corners in the league…
Xavien Howard: $15.1M
Trumaine Johnson: $14.2M
Xavier Rhodes: $14M
…it’s safe to say he will want a similar payday. You can make the argument that he isn’t realistically a top-10 corner anymore (subject to change).
If we’re to name top-10 corners off the dome (This is subjective so feel free to disagree), how far down the list do you go until Slay’s name pops into mind?
You get the picture.
The issue here is that the Eagles really don’t like giving money upfront, just ask Malcolm Jenkins. It’s backloaded deals laden with incentives and room for manouverabiltiy. If the Eagles are going to be paying that kind of money, why not just go all-in on the younger, more schematically fitting Byron Jones on a long-term deal where you don’t give up assets?
The trade itself
The ESPN Trade machine article noted that the Eagles could give up Sidney Jones and a third-round pick. This makes sense due to the fact that Undlin is now the Lions’ defensive coordinator and has worked with Jones his entire career. The compensatory picks may push the Eagles into giving one up knowing they have plenty more at their disposal, too.
But what’s the motive of a trade for Slay? Is he a borderline elite talent? I don’t know. He’s absolutely an upgrade over what the Eagles have now, but this kind of move has to come with a pre-meditated aim to build the position. Slay is slightly older and if they can sign him to a shorter-term deal, it buys them time to develop the next in line. If Slay doesn’t play ball and wants a five-year deal, that’s where this may get problematic.
The Eagles need to work out how they want to construct the cornerback position. If it’s through the youth infusion and development, let Slay take the reins. if it’s ready to win now, go all-in on Byron Jones and beyond.
Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports