Darius Slay made it plain and clear that he was ready for a change. After the Detroit Lions traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles, Slay left some harsh comments for Lions head coach Matt Patricia, saying he had lost all respect for the man and couldn’t see playing for him anymore.
But now that Slay’s new contract with the Eagles is out, it’s clear just how much he wanted out of Detroit.
The headline-catching detail of the contract is that Slay has the highest per-season average among all cornerbacks at $16.7 million per season. However, the details paint a very different picture, and one that actually highly benefits the Eagles.
2020: $4.3 million cap hit—$26.05M in dead cap if cut
2021: $15.75 million cap hit — $21.75M in dead cap if cut
2022: $19.75 million cap hit — $6.5M in dead cap if cut ($13.25M saved)
2023: $20.75 million cap hit — $3.25M in dead cap if cut ($17.5M saved)
In essence, the Eagles are only really committed to Slay for the next two seasons. In 2020, his cap hit of $4.3 million ranks just 35th among NFL cornerbacks. That number jumps to $15.75 million next season, which places him fifth.
But beyond that, if the Eagles see Slay’s play decline into his early 30s, they can simply cut ties with him and save over $13 million in cap space in 2022. It seems quite unlikely that Slay ends up seeing that 2023 season—he’ll be 32 then—and Philly can simply release him, saving $17.5 million in cap space.
Ultimately, that seems like exactly the kind of deal the Lions should have made. For the first two years of that deal, Slay is absolutely worth those cap hits. In fact, you could argue he’s a bargain at those numbers. Beyond that, his cap hit does become a bit egregious, but the way it is formatted, Detroit could have simply taken a modest dead cap number by cutting Slay and moving on from there.
But was Detroit willing to even pay that much? As pointed out by Zac Snyder (formerly of Detroit Jock City), this contract requires a fair share of money upfront ($26 million guaranteed at signing), which necessitates a big immediate cash commitment from the team. That could be something the team was simply unwilling to do. And if you are to take Slay at his word, it doesn’t sound like general manager Bob Quinn offered that kind of money.
Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (emphasis mine):
Slay said he had “a great relationship” with Lions general manager Bob Quinn, and he would have considered signing a long-term deal had the money been right. The Lions and Slay’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, had on-again, off-again contract talks that Slay said he asked to table around midseason.
But given how reluctant the Lions appeared to be in trading Slay both at the deadline and when they eventually did so last week, the Lions did value Slay’s talent. They highly value the cornerback position, and Slay has been a tremendous talent since he landed in Detroit.
Something just doesn’t add up here. Either the Lions completely dropped the ball by not offering a completely reasonable deal like this one, or Slay just wanted to get the hell away from Matt Patricia and the Lions. Either way, the Lions blew this one.