Darius Slay has arguably been one of the brightest spots on an otherwise dismal year. When the Philadelphia Eagles gave up two mid-round draft picks — plus a $50 million contract, with $30 million guaranteed — to the Detroit Lions for Darius Slay, it was seen as a coup. Some called it a steal for Philly.
The Eagles were able to backload the contract to avoid any negative long-term impact on the team’s dire salary-cap situation. Slay has mostly lived up to the hype — except in one important category: interceptions. It took the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback 15 games to record his first interception after grabbing a highlight-reel pick last week. Keep in mind, Slay has been shadowing the opposition’s top receiver every single week.
On Tuesday, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked to evaluate Slay’s 2020 campaign. This is the same coach who drafted Slay 36th overall in 2013 — one pick after Zach Ertz — and seemed to be instrumental in the Eagles trading for him.
“He shadowed the best receivers. He’s made some guys disappear,” Schwartz told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s had a couple games that he wasn’t — he probably wasn’t at the top of his game, but I think that more falls to the NFL and the load that we put on him and knowing that you’re not going to pitch a shutout against great receivers every single week.”
Jim Schwartz evaluates Darius Slay by saying look beyond the interceptions. He shadowed top WRs all year and was totally unselfish. "He's done yeoman's work when we asked him to, doesn't always show up on the stat sheet." #Eagles #FlyEaglesFly
— Michael Greger (@mike_greger) December 29, 2020
Those bad games came against Seattle’s DK Metcalf (10 catches, 177 yards) and Green Bay’s Davante Adams (10 catches, 121 yards) in back-to-back weeks. It wasn’t all on Slay but he manned up and took the blame. Meanwhile, the 30-year-old was lockdown every other week and finished the year allowing just 57 yards per game.
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‘Totally Unselfish’ Player, Amari Cooper Stopper
One of the reasons the Eagles wanted to acquire Slay was due to his history of shutting down Amari Cooper. The Dallas Cowboys are their biggest rivals in the NFC East and they have to face Cooper twice a year. He entered the year having limited Cooper to 42 yards on four catches for zero touchdowns on 12 career targets.
So, how did it go in their two matchups in 2020? Pretty darn well. Pro Football Focus showed Slay holding Cooper to two catches for eight yards in two games. Some people pinned a 35-yard completion on Slay in the first quarter, but it looked like safety Marcus Epps was out of position on a blown coverage. Schwartz seemed to agree, without naming names.
“First play there’s help that should be coming his way on that first play, and it wasn’t there,” Schwartz said of that 35-yarder, “and it made it look bad for him giving up a long completion, but after that, man, I have a hard time remembering another completion that he gave up after that in this game.”
Darius Slay vs the Cowboys yesterday:
Amari Cooper: 1 catch for 3 yards (had 1 catch for 5 yards in the first game earlier this season)
Michael Gallup: 0 catches for 0 yards
CeeDee Lamb: 0 catches for 0 yards (caught an INT over him)
End the disrespectpic.twitter.com/u3E17P28XK
— lil mumu. 🇵🇸 (@mautezawad) December 28, 2020
The Eagles had to switch Slay off Cooper in the second half after Michael Jacquet kept getting beat — seven catches for 182 yards on nine targets — by Michael Gallup. Then Jacquet was promptly smoked by Cooper on a 69-yarder down the sideline. Tough day.
Schwartz Doubles Down on Personnel Decisions
It stands to reason that Schwartz would have ample say on which defensive players get signed in free agency, especially when you consider the high volume of his former pupils hanging around. And there have been reports saying he does have “unparalleled sway.”
Slay was with him in Detroit, while Nickell Robey-Coleman was with him in Buffalo — not to mention, ex-Eagles players like Nigel Bradham and Ronald Darby. Yet the long-time defensive coordinator has repeatedly denied he has influence on personnel decisions. Well, he has usually deferred the question.
— Michael Greger (@mike_greger) December 29, 2020
“I don’t really talk about roster decisions. That’s really not my land to farm right there,” Schwartz said on Tuesday. “So I’ll just leave that for Doug [Pederson] and Howie [Roseman]. They can address those kind of things.”
Back to Slay. He seemed to get a ringing endorsement from Schwartz for his first year in midnight green.
“But as far as Slay, it certainly didn’t show up in the stat sheet as far as like interceptions and things like that,” Schwartz said. “But there were a lot of games that quarterbacks didn’t throw very much at him, including this last game.”
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