After falling short of nabbing Byron Jones in free agency, the Eagles turned to the trade market and dealt for cornerback Darius Slay on Thursday, NFL sources told The Inquirer.
The Eagles are sending 2020 third- and fifth-round draft picks to the Lions for Slay, who had been asking Detroit for a new contract. To make the deal possible, the Eagles signed the 29-year-old Slay to a three-year, $50 million contract, with $30 million guaranteed, said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
Slay still has one year at $10.5 million left on his contract with the Lions. While his average salary of $16.67 million in new money would make him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, his overall average of $15.125 million places him just below Jones, who agreed to a five-year, $82.5 million deal with $57 million guaranteed with the Dolphins Monday.
The Eagles made a strong push to get the 27-year-old Jones, but fell short. Miami guaranteed him $40 million in the first two years of the deal, a figure that likely took the Eagles out of the running.
Slay is nearly two years older — he just turned 29 in January — but he has a more-accomplished resume than Jones. The 6-foot, 190-pound corner was voted to Pro Bowls after the 2017, ’18, and ’19 seasons and was a first-team All-Pro in 2017.
He had what some evaluators called a down year ast season, but he was hampered by a hamstring injury in the first half. Slay, however, gives the Eagles their most accomplished cornerback since they acquired Nnamdi Asomugha as a free agent in 2011.
But Asomugha has been one of many free-agent busts that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and his staff have been responsible for over the last decade. Their drafts haven’t produced enough starting-caliber corners, either, and questionable recent selections such as Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas were part of the reason Roseman needed to look elsewhere for talent.
The Eagles still have eight picks for next month’s draft: one first-rounder (No. 21 overall), a second (No. 53), a third (No. 103), three fourths (Nos. 127, 145 and 146), a fifth (No. 168), and a sixth (No. 190). The third-round pick they sent to Detroit is the 85th overall, and the fifth rounder is the 166th.
Slay was chosen in the second round of the 2013 draft — in Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s last year as Lions head coach. He almost instantly became a starter. In seven seasons, he tallied 19 interceptions and 104 pass breakups.
The Lions tried to move Slay last season before the trade deadline. The Eagles were reportedly in the mix, but Detroit wanted a first-round pick for their No. 1 corner. Their return was much smaller this time around.
Roseman has become accustomed to parting with his draft picks over the last several offseasons. The Eagles used only five picks in each of the previous two drafts. Roseman has said he would be diligent in keeping as many of his 10 selections this year, but the lure of Slay and the need at cornerback were clearly too great.
The Eagles re-signed cornerback Jalen Mills to a one-year contract on Tuesday, but a move to safety might be in his future. Ronald Darby, who joined the Eagles in a trade before the 2017 season and was re-signed to a one-year deal last offseason, is expected to leave in free agency.
Slay joins an Eagles cornerback group that includes Jones, Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’Von LeBlanc. It’s unclear who will start opposite Slay and whether the Eagles are finished at the position, but he should provide a much-needed upgrade.
Of course, a similar sentiment was expressed after the Eagles acquired other notable cornerbacks. And the results never matched the expectations.