Why the Eagles need to build their secondary around Darius Slay

NFL: SEP 27 Bengals at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Darius Slay (24) interacts with the Bengals bench after a play in the second half during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles are set to undergo an offseason of change. The process is already well underway with a full coaching staff rebuild, but how much of that same mentality will extend to the players? In a recent article where he forecasts the future of each position, Brandon Lee Gowton stated that the Eagles should move on from Darius Slay. For whatever reason, this took off and caused a chaotic stream of discussion on social media. But what should the Eagles do with their current CB1?

The salary cap situation

With the new salary cap announced, the Eagles sit $53M in the red. That’s not ideal. Darius Slay, who is approaching the age of 31-years-old, will cost the team $15.75M next season. It’s easy to add 2+2 together…but there’s a chance you’ll end up with 5.

Slay may be the fifth-most expensive player on the roster, but that doesn’t mean he should be instantly discarded.

We know that the Eagles have invested a ton in their defensive front, with Malik Jackson taking a significant restructure already in order to make his contract more appetizing to trade suitors. If the Eagles were to part ways with Derek Barnett in his fifth-year, that would save them $10M.

On offense, we can assume DeSean Jackson ($10M) and Alshon Jeffery ($6M after restructure) will be handed an early exit. These three moves combined would negate half of that debt.

If we are to assume Zach Ertz is another Eagle facing an early departure, that’s at least another $4M off the books, potentially another $8.2M.

Marquise Goodwin is still on the roster at $4m. That probably won’t be the case for long.

It’s also probable that Roseman looks to restructure several contracts. Carson Wentz is first on the list, while Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson may also face a fluttering of eyelids from Howie Roseman. Fletcher Cox will cost a monumental $23M next year. I can’t see that being the case by the time the Draft arrives.

Sure, moving on from Darius Slay is a viable option, but so is putting peanut butter on a block of cheese and eating it whole.

Darius Slay wasn’t the problem

The other argument given was that Slay is ‘regressing’ and wasn’t exactly his best last year. From a ball-production standpoint, that’s absolutely true. But not a single Eagles CB has had a 5 interception season under Jim Schwartz. The scheme doesn’t lend itself to turnovers at the point of the catch. Instead, it banks on corners and safeties closing off deeper routes, forcing the QB to keep the ball in his hands longer and expose him to a rampant pass-rush.

If we subtract DK Metcalf’s 158-yard romp and Davante Adams’ 100-yard outing that came one week later, his season looks significantly better. He helped hold Terry McLaurin to just 28 yards, Jarvis Landry to 13, Michael Thomas to 33, and Juju Smith-Schuster to 11. Slay had only given up 50+ yards to a receiver twice this season and both came in those wildfire defeats. He also only allowed three touchdowns this year, with Davante Adams doing the damage on two.

Slay’s value came in shutting down big-name receivers, which is exactly what he was brought in to do. It’s not his fault that QB’s know he can blanket his top target, so just turns his eyes to the other side of the field where an array of nickel corners are being burned alive time and time again.

Without Slay, the Eagles quite literally have nothing in the secondary to stop minor bleeding turning into a traumatic injury.

The trade wasn’t even bad

The idea that the Eagles overpaid is a silly one. In dire need of CB help, the Eagles sought to part ways with draft capital and curate a shorter deal as opposed to paying for the big boy in Byron Jones. This was one of the very few moves that actually panned out for the Eagles, who at the time believed they were just a few pieces away from being a real contender. Howie then decided to blow that into oblivion, but isolating this trade as a mistake because of it just makes no sense.

Life after Darius Slay

Darius Slay isn’t the issue with the secondary. The Eagles needed a playmaker badly and it came down to Slay vs Byron Jones. The idea of trading for Slay could based on the premise that he holds the fort until a successor is developed. Given that we now know Avonte Maddox is definitely better suited to a nickel role, drafting a CB2 is likely, and the idea of landing a potential future CB1 who can learn under a secondary-orientated defensive coordinator in Gannon and a veteran leader in Darius Slay is enticing.

The Eagles can part ways with Darius Slay for $13.5M next offseason and there may even be a sneaky restructure this year. But to even suggest parting ways with him because the team isn’t in a ‘win-now’ mode makes no sense when without him, the team won’t be winning at all.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire