After suffering through mediocre cornerback play for the better part of a decade, the Philadelphia Eagles have finally found their playmaker in Darius Slay.
When free agency opened up unofficially on Monday, Philadelphia Eagles fans had money burning a hole in their pocket.
After watching the 2019 season ‘flaming out’ due to a slew of injuries and ineffective cornerback play, the idea of finally addressing the position with a top-tier player was goal number one, followed close behind with signing a wide receiver, linebacker, etc.
Much like the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ mentality with signing Nick Foles, Eagles fans wanted to sign a top-shelf cornerback to a monster deal out of respect, even if none of the top free agents – Byron Jones, James Bradberry, or Chris Harris – fit Jim Schwartz‘s bill as a big play perimeter defender.
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Philly fans, meet your new $50 million man, Darius Slay.
Measuring in at 6-foot, 190 pounds, Slay is one of the most prolific ballhawks in the NFL right now. Since becoming a full-time starter in his second professional season, Slay has recorded at least two interceptions and 13 passes defensed a season.
Just for context, only eight active cornerbacks in the NFL have more interceptions (19) than Slay.
Make no mistake, Slay is a true number one cornerback. He can match up with an opposing team’s best wide receivers, travel from the left side to the right side, and even deploy out of the slot against elite inside options. Whether tasked with covering a giant like D.K. Metcalf or a shifty speedster like Tyreek Hill, Slay has a proven track record of rising up to the challenge.
Coverage is kind of his specialty.
Over his last two Pro Bowl seasons, Slay has been targeted 187 times. On those targets, he’s allowed 96 catches for 1,214 yards, nine touchdowns and a quarterback rating in the upper 70s. Those numbers are above-average for a full-time starter cornerback, but when you consider that Slay was tasked with shadowing an opposing team’s best receiver in Matt Patricia‘s man coverage-heavy Detroit Lions scheme it becomes increasingly more impressive.
Now make no mistake, the Eagles paid a premium to acquire Slay, both in the third and fifth-round selections they are sending to Detroit and the three-year, $50 million extension they handed the 29-year-old cornerback, and he won’t immediately fix the secondary. Barring a second free agency signing or the procurement of a premier cornerback in the draft, Slay will be playing across from either Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, or Rasul Douglas in 2020 and we all know the strengths and weakness of each of those players.
What Slay does, however, is help.
The Lions were bad in 2019, but that wasn’t Slays fault. He did his part and played at about as high a level as any cornerback in the league can. Now Slay will be tasked with translating that play onto a team with Super Bowl aspirations, where his efforts can actually work towards something greater than a top-10 draft pick.
And hey, when you see a one-hit-wonder like Dante Fowler sign a three-year deal worth $48 million, or an average-ish cornerback like Trae Waynes sign a three-year deal worth $42 million, locking Slay to an extension with $30 million guaranteed feels like good value for a player of his caliber.
After years trapped in the doldrums of mediocre-at-best cornerback play, the Philadelphia Eagles now have the highest-paid cornerback in the league on an annual basis at $16.67 million. While Darius Slay’s addition isn’t a magic pill that suddenly puts every piece in line, his addition should elevate Jim Schwartz’s coverage unit considerably if utilized correctly as a matchup piece. On day two of free agency, what more could you ask for?