“This news hardly comes as a surprise” is a line I’ve been using a lot lately but it truly applies here once again. We forecasted this outcome a few weeks ago:
The Eagles obviously won’t be cutting Slay but they can clear $6 million by trading him. Some have been angered by this suggestion since the Eagles only acquired him last year and the team doesn’t have much at cornerback without him. But if the Eagles don’t trade Slay, they’ll probably have to restructure his contract to get under the cap. And doing so makes a further commitment to a player who turned 30 in January and might be coming off his best season with Eagles since cornerbacks don’t always age well. The guess here is the Eagles won’t get offers for Slay that they find suitable and, again, they just don’t have much else at the position (though that shouldn’t matter a ton with 2021 not being an all-in year anyway). The Eagles probably should trade Slay but I’m guessing they won’t.
If the Eagles did have reasonable offers for Slay and simply didn’t want to take the L on a trade they clearly shouldn’t have made, that would be disappointing. But it’s quite possible there wasn’t a strong market for Slay given the combination of his age, contract, and underperformance last year.
REVIEW: For a guy who prefers to be called “Big Play Slay,” he sure didn’t make a lot of them in his first season with the Eagles. This isn’t to suggest Slay was terrible; he certainly represented an upgrade over what the Eagles have previously had at cornerback. But he wasn’t anything amazing. Pro Football Focus had Slay graded 59th out of 136 corners and a 115.6 passer rating allowed when targeted. Slay memorably got his lunch eaten by D.K. Metcalf and Davante Adams in back-to-back weeks. In fairness, he was less than 100% [due to injury] and those are some really, really good wide receivers. But expectations were rightfully high with the Eagles giving up two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft AND making Slay the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL at the time of his acquisition. Slay was good but wasn’t anything resembling an elite difference-maker for the Birds. At least he seemed pretty happy about the one pick he had during a blowout loss to the Eagles’ biggest division rival in which they were officially eliminated from the playoffs.
To expand further on the “difference-maker” point, acquiring Slay did absolutely nothing to transform the Eagles’ defense. They were 20th in opponent yards per pass attempt and 15th in pass defense DVOA in 2019. They actually worsened in those categories after acquiring Slay, dropping to 22nd and 24th, respectively.
I’m sure some will be wont to blame dearly departed Jim Schwartz for Slay’s struggles but the veteran corner is coming off two straight lackluster seasons now. Perhaps he’ll rebound under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who helped get the best out of Xavier Rhodes last year after the Minnesota Vikings cut him. Or maybe he’ll continue to underwhelm and this restructure will only make moving on from him down the line more inconvenient.
In any case, Slay is now the second player we know for sure that the Eagles are restructuring this offseason. It was previously reported that Brandon Graham’s deal is in the process of being reworked. There are a few other players that will likely be restructured as the Eagles work to get under the cap.
While the benefit to these restructures is that they help the Eagles clear space now, it comes at the expense of losing cap room in the future years. Not the end of the world but also not ideal.