Eagles analysis

Eagles need another big season from Big Play Slay in 2023

Darius Slay is getting older but is still an extremely important player for the Eagles in 2023

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Over the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 25 most important Eagles for the 2023 season.

25. Nolan Smith
24. Quez Watkins
23. Kenny Gainwell
22. Marcus Mariota
21. Reed Blankenship
20. Brandon Graham
19. D'Andre Swift
18. Avonte Maddox
17. Cam Jurgens
16. Fletcher Cox
15. Landon Dickerson
14. Jordan Davis
13. Nakobe Dean
12. Jalen Carter
11. James Bradberry
10. Jordan Mailata
9. Josh Sweat
8. DeVonta Smith
7. Darius Slay

It looked like Darius Slay was gone. 

When the Eagles and Slay’s agent Drew Rosenhaus were unable to reach terms of a new contract, the Eagles were actually prepared to release the five-time Pro Bowl cornerback. Slay even tweeted a farewell message to the city.

But then Slay realized he wanted to still play for the Eagles. And the Eagles realized they still wanted Slay to play for them. So Howie Roseman and his team and Rosenhaus figured out a way to make it happen.

Eventually, Slay signed a three-year, $42 million contract with $24.5 million in guaranteed money. That deal can basically become a two-year, $23 million deal, a league source told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

So Slay got some extra money and the Eagles brought back one of their best defensive players on a deal that doesn’t have crazy long-term implications. It’s very similar to the three-year deal the Eagles brought James Bradberry back on.

Slay, who turned 32 in January, had another good season in 2022. He had 3 interceptions, 14 pass breakups and was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. He was also named as a first-teamer on the NFLPA’s inaugural all-pro team, which tells you how respected he is by fellow NFL players.

The concern with Slay is pretty obvious. He’s 32. That’s not old in the real world but it is old in the NFL, especially for a cornerback.

In the entire league last year there were just five cornerbacks 32 or older who started a game and just two started more than 6: Patrick Peterson (17) and Stephon Gilmore (16). The last time the Eagles had a regular starting cornerback 32 or older was at the tail end of Troy Vincent’s career two decades ago. Vincent started 15 games in 2022 in his age 32 season and 13 in 2003 in his age 33 season.

Slay’s age is even more concerning given the statistical decline in his play in the second half of 2022.

In the first eight games of last season, opponents completed just 46.3% of their passes against him with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions and a passer rating of 37.2. But in the last 9 games of the regular season, that was up to 71.1% for 346 yards with 4 touchdowns, 0 INTs and a passer rating of 134.4, according to Stathead.

Of course, sometimes the stats don’t tell the full story. We don’t know assignments or play call, which makes it really difficult to assign blame responsibly. But even if those number exaggerate a drop-off, there’s still reason to be concerned.

But it’s also worth noting that ProFootballFocus ranked Slay as the No. 3 cornerback in the NFL entering this upcoming season, behind just Sauce Gardner and Jalen Ramsey. According to PFF, Slay allowed just 56.6% of passes thrown his way to be caught in 2022.

The Eagles have some better depth at cornerback this season after drafting Kelee Ringo and signing Greedy Williams. But there’s still a major drop-off from the two starters to their backups. And that makes Slay such an important part of this team.

The Eagles can’t afford for Slay to be anything other than great in 2023. As a reminder, here are some of the top No. 1 receivers the Eagles will face in 2023: Tyreek Hill, DK Metcalf, Terry McLauren, CeeDee Lamb, Deebo Samuel, Garrett Wilson, Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs and more.

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