When the Eagles’ team charter touches down this weekend in Detroit, cornerback Darius Slay will have one particular destination in mind: Captain Jay’s Fish & Chicken.
“They have this little stuff they call crack,” Slay said. “It’s not actually crack. But it’s only sugar, lemon pepper, and salt in a little can, and you pour it on your chicken. Get a little spice to it, put some hot sauce on it — then you throw the crack on the fries. It’s crazy.”
Slay, 30, has fond memories of Detroit, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career after the Lions selected him in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. This Sunday’s matchup between the Eagles and Lions will mark the first time he faces his former team.
“That’s like my second home,” Slay said. “I’m real big in the community there, so it’s going to be a good feeling to be [going back to] Detroit.”
Much has changed since Slay was traded to the Eagles in 2020 following a rift with former Lions coach Matt Patricia. The Lions have a new coach in Dan Campbell and also a new general manager in Brad Holmes. Meanwhile, Slay is playing for a first-year coach in Nick Sirianni and a new defensive coordinator in Jonathan Gannon.
Throughout the changes between both organizations, there has been one constant: Slay’s performance.
Slay has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times. Last season, he led the defense with 10 pass deflections and he tallied a career-high 77 tackles.
After seven games, Slay leads the Eagles with two interceptions and ranks second in passes defensed with three — behind fellow cornerbacks Steven Nelson and Avonte Maddox (both have four). According to Pro Football Focus, Slay is ranked ninth among cornerbacks in overall coverage and sixth at outside cornerback.
“I’m still playing great,” Slay said. “The only thing is the picks I had in Detroit. Was there seven years [and compiled 19 interceptions], but other than that, started off good, finishing off good. ... I’m playing where I need to be. But I can always get better and I’m going to continue to get better.”
Upon his arrival to Philadelphia, Slay signed a three-year contract extension worth $50 million. In terms of average annual value, he’s the third-highest paid player on the Eagles behind only defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and offensive lineman Lane Johnson. Despite the dollar amount attached to his name, Slay still believes he is one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league.
“Sometimes you have to remind people,” he said. “It’s tough, definitely at that time playing in Detroit was kind of hard. We had a great fan base, but it’s not a popular team. ... I feel like a lot of stuff comes with popularity.
“But if you look at my film, I’ve been doing everything a corner needs to do. I’ve been in a defense where man was every play with no help, doing what I had to do. [I’m] locking up guys, being in a zone defense and man defense, getting all the picks. So I did everything that a corner needs to do and been doing it at a high level for a long time.”
During Slay’s first season with the Eagles, they finished with a 4-12 record. The team has gotten off to another disappointing start with a 2-5 record heading into their matchup with the winless Lions on Sunday at Ford Field.
Among the challenges Slay and other defensive players have needed to adjust to this year is Gannon’s zone-heavy scheme. For a majority of his career, Slay had been considered a man-to-man corner, who’d often shadow the opposing team’s best receiver. That narrative has changed leaguewide and especially in Philadelphia, where Gannon has reigned.
“He is a premium corner,” Gannon said recently of Slay. “So, most of the premium corners in the league like that [man-to-man] challenge because that shows their ability to show everyone that they are premium corners, when you can go shut out a top guy. But he also knows that if it’s not the right thing for us that week, then he will do what we ask of him. ... So, he has been awesome to be around.”
Said Slay: “I’m one guy. I can’t change the whole narrative of the whole team, but I will do whatever I can to help us get to that situation. All I can do is keep going out there, working hard every day, helping guys underneath me to get better, so that’s the goal.”
He concluded: “I’m all about winning. But at the end of the day, I’m all about helping people, too. I want to do the best for everybody on this team.”