Bold, daring, adventurous, ground-breaking, all of these have been used to spice up offseason columns discussing possible moves teams could make in the NFL. It’s a common trope that goes something like “five bold moves team x could make” or something like that. Sometimes you get interesting and debatable moves, other times you get things that are just trying to create clicks.
Dallas Cowboys: Let CB Byron Jones walk and trade for CB Darius Slay
The Cowboys were a top-10 team in overall DVOA in 2019 and shouldn’t let their failure to reach the playoffs last season deter them from spending for a short-term Super Bowl window. The Cowboys also have the fifth-most available cap space, and would have more space than most teams even after adding a $40 million hit for an extension for quarterback Dak Prescott.
Following that logic, the team might be in a position to make a subtle upgrade from incumbent cornerback Byron Jones (himself a free agent) to Darius Slay (rumored to be on the Lions’ trade block). Jones is two years younger than Slay and edged him out in coverage success rate in 2019, 54% to 53%. But Jones is also a recent conversion from safety. Slay has hit that 53% benchmark for three consecutive seasons and is a better bet to maintain his elite performance in the future. Meanwhile, the outspoken Slay is a good personality fit for the Cowboys, and his 2021 free-agency timeline offers the team more flexibility if it underperforms again in 2020.
For this to even work, you would need to know what the Detroit Lions want for Slay, and what his contractual situation looks like. Football Outsiders seems to be making the case the Jones and Slay match up pretty well when comparing their coverage abilities. They even seem to be giving a slight edge to Slay based on the fact he’s done it year-after-year as a corner. One area they don’t bring up, though, is turnovers. Jones is famously interception-allergic while Slay has a decent reputation as a ball hawk.
Slay has 13 interceptions over the last three years, including an incredible eight in 2017, while Jones has has exactly one. We’ve already heard from many of the Cowboys defensive coaches that turnovers and ball hawks are in vogue in 2020 for the Dallas defense. So would Slay be a better fit?
Well, we’d need to circle back to those questions we asked above - what would it take to get Slay, and how much does he want in a new contract?
Initially, the Lions were believed to want a first-round pick for Slay, who will be entering his eighth NFL season. After being rebuffed, and because any acquiring team would have to sign Slay to a new deal, the cost now looks more like a Day 2 draft choice.
A Day 2 choice is a very wide net. The Cowboys have picks #51 and #82. Let’s assume the Lions would only discuss the #51 pick for Slay (plus maybe an additional pick next year in a later round). It’s questionable whether even that would be enough considering Slay has been a Pro Bowl corner the last three years and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2017. If the Cowboys could pull that off, in a vacuum, it may be a great deal.
But then you have to re-sign Slay for the long-term. That’s where it gets really tricky. Slay wants to get paid.
Slay, 29, has made no secret about his desire for a new contract that will make him one of the highest-paid defensive backs in the league.
He’s set to make $10 million in 2020 in the final year of an extension he signed in 2016, and indicated on social media recently he wants a deal in the range of $17 million annually.
That would make him the highest paid corner in the league by a decent margin. $15 million annual average is the top rung, although that will certainly be topped by someone in free agency this offseason, and that someone is possibly Byron Jones.
So does this trade make sense or would the Cowboys just be better off re-signing Jones?
Slay has been at the top a little longer than Jones and has shown the ability to get the all-important turnover. But he is 29 while Jones is 27, and the Cowboys would have to give up some trade capital in this draft and likely a bonus pick in another draft. Of course, if they let Jones walk they would likely get back a third-round comp pick next year.
What say you BTB? Would you consider this trade, would you stick with Jones, or would you rather just pick up a rookie corner in the draft and move from there?