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Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is quite fond of a good baseball metaphor, so in honor of the Eagles' acquisition of Darius Slay, I figured I'd give it a go.
Sure, the Eagles took a big swing and missed in free agency when they tried to sign Byron Jones.
But then they knocked the next pitch out of the park.
We'll get into all the specifics about why this scenario worked out much better for the Eagles, but let's start with the most basic one: They got the better player.
Sure, Jones was considered to be the top cornerback on the market this offseason and his five-year, $82.5 million deal from Miami backs that up. But Slay is better than any of the corners who got paid this week. He's been a Pro Bowler the last three seasons and is a big-time playmaker.
He's the type of playmaker the Eagles haven't had at cornerback since Asante Samuel was in his prime a decade ago. Slay is a confident, competitive, ball-hawking, aggressive corner with the skills to back it up.
Slay is exactly what the Eagles have been missing.
— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) March 19, 2020
While Jones' lack of interceptions wouldn't have been a deal-breaker for me, the Eagles have to be happy to get a corner who has 19 career picks and has six seasons with as many picks as Jones has in his entire career.
Take a look at their career stats:
And if you want to look a little deeper, take a look at Slay from an analytics standpoint. He's a lock-down corner.
The Eagles have acquired CB Darius Slay from the Lions to shore up their secondary.
Slay ranks in the top 5 among defensive backs in several coverage metrics when targeted as the nearest defender since 2016, while the Eagles allowed a league-high 11 deep TD last season. https://t.co/wt87LnZvzD pic.twitter.com/KoESBrdR9O
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 19, 2020
And unlike Jones, Slay has played for Schwartz before. It was just one year back in 2013 but at least Slay will have some recall of his defense. He also has two years of NFL experience on Jones, which might come in handy this season.
Remember, because of coronavirus precautions, no one knows when players will be allowed back at team facilities for film study and on-field instruction. Any little advantage, like a knowledge of a defense, could help this year.
Taking away top receivers
Then there's Slay's ability to travel with his opposition's best receiver. Schwartz hasn't done that since he's been in Philly, but he didn't exactly have the personnel for it. Was he gonna tell Leodis McKelvin or Nolan Carroll or Ronald Darby to follow Odell Beckham for a whole game? No way.
After Amari Cooper was just locked up by the Cowboys on a long-term deal, the Eagles will have to worry about him twice per season for the next five years.
Cooper has killed the Eagles before. In five career games against the Eagles, Cooper has 28 catches for 488 yards and four touchdowns. That includes his 217-yard, three-touchdown performance in 2018.
But the Eagles finally have a lockdown cornerback who should be able to minimize that damage.
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper and Eagles CB Darius Slay have faced off twice in the NFL.
2015: Slay shadowed Cooper on 20 of his 27 routes. Cooper had 0 catches on 3 targets in the game.
2019: Slay shadowed on 26 of his 30 routes. Cooper posted an 8-3-38-0 receiving line.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) March 19, 2020
Sure, two games is a pretty small sample size, but blanketing top receivers is what Slay has done his entire career.
Slay's three-year extension is worth $50 million with $30 million guaranteed. So in those three seasons, his average per year is higher than that of Jones. But the Eagles extended his contract, which had one year left at $10.5 million.
So really, Slay's deal with the Eagles is four years, $60.5 million, which comes out to less than Jones on a per-season basis.
Jones over the next five: $16.5 million per season
Slay over the next four: $15.125 million per season
And Howie Roseman didn't have to make nearly the same commitment to Slay as the Dolphins did for Jones. Slay's contract includes $30 million guaranteed, while Jones got over $54 million guaranteed.
It is true that if the Eagles signed Jones, they wouldn't have needed to trade away a third and a fifth-round pick. But signing a guy to an $82 million contract would have certainly been enough to cancel out a future compensatory pick. So it's basically like the Eagles would have given away a pick to get him anyway.
OK, what about age?
The only area where Jones has a real advantage is age. Fine, this is something, especially for a position where there's sometimes a steep drop-off at a certain age.
But how much older is Slay than Jones? Not much. Slay is 1 year, 8 months and 25 days older. It really isn't that big of a gap.
Durability hasn't been a problem for Slay either. He has played at least 13 games in all seven of his NFL seasons and has missed just three over the last two years.
And because Jones was used so heavily on special teams in Dallas and because he didn't miss any time, Slay has played just 614 more total snaps (6,300-5,686) in seven years than Jones has in five.
So if age is the main reason why Jones might have been a better pickup and it seems like that age might not be as big of a factor as we thought, then this really is a home run.
Because, again, the Eagles also ended up with the better player.
Enjoy your trot around the bases, Howie.
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Eagles struck out on Byron Jones and ended up better off with Darius Slay originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia