The first wave of the 2020 free agency saw big-name wide receivers receive big deals (or be involved in a major trade): DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals, Stefon Diggs to the Bills, and Amari Cooper re-signed with the Cowboys.
The cornerback market has seen some action as well. Byron Jones signed a huge deal with the Miami Dolphins on the first day of the tampering period, while rumored Cowboys targets Chris Harris, Jr. inked with the Chargers and Desmond Trufant signed with the Lions.
Another huge move regarding the cornerback position came this morning.
The Philadelphia Eagles, knowing they have a major hole in the secondary, made a move for Pro Bowl corner Darius Slay on Thursday.
Eagles are trading a third- and fifth-round pick in 2020 draft to Detroit for Darius Slay, per source. https://t.co/o2LPCtHK0M— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 19, 2020
The Eagles gave up a third-round and a fifth-round draft pick for the 2020, draft; however, thanks to compensatory selections, Philly still owns a pick in each of those rounds.
Former Cowboys defensive back Byron Jones became the highest paid corner in the NFL when he inked with the Dolphins at an average annual value of $16.5 million. After Thursday’s trade, Slay now sits atop the list of highest paid players at the position by signing a three-year, $50 million extension with an average annual value of $16.6 million.
Darius Slay’s new deal now makes him the NFL’s highest-paid CB. Byron Jones’ reign there lasted less than a week. https://t.co/pL1vL8eIhZ— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 19, 2020
What does this mean for the Cowboys?
Whenever the Philadelphia Eagles (or any other team in the NFC East, for that matter) makes a move, it is sure to at least have some kind of impact on the Cowboys. After all, these are the teams that have been battling for the division in the last few seasons.
The move for Slay immediately gives the Eagles secondary a legitimate CB1. You can argue where Slay ranks among NFL corners or that his down season in 2019 is a sign of things to come, but the former Mississippi State defensive back has made a name for himself by consistently defending other team’s go-to guys and making big plays time-and-time again. Hence the nickname Big Play Slay.
Slay has matched up with Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper once since Coop has been in Dallas, coming last season in a 35-27 Dallas victory. The two had a very fun battle at Ford Field:
If Darius Slay is traded to the Eagles...— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 19, 2020
he’s done OUTSTANDING vs Amari Cooper.
Cooper vs PHI (5 gms, 44 targets):
• 4 TDs
• 11.1 YPA
• 98 yds/gm
• 64% catch rate
Cooper vs DET (2 gms, 12 targets):
• 0 TDs
• 3.5 YPA
• 21 yds/gm
• 33% catch rate
From 2019 meeting pic.twitter.com/1a6Z6MSfkQ
Amari Cooper has had his way against the Eagles secondary for the most part since teaming up with Dak Prescott. Mike Fisher noted that it is safe to assume that the Philadelphia front office had Cooper in the back of their mind when making this deal, calling Slay a “Cooper Stopper”.
It’s not difficult to imagine what the Eagles are thinking here in pulling off a long-rumored trade that brings Slay (dissatisfied in Detroit) to Philly: mIn addition to him being a Pro Bowl player in general, he is also - important to the two-tea competition that seems to exist in the NFC East - specifically a “Cooper Stopper.’’
Slay has had success defending number one wideouts across the league while putting together multiple Pro Bowl seasons. He is one of the rare shadow corners that follows the receiver into the slot.
As Pro Football Focus’ Austin Gayle notes, his ability to match-and-mirror is among the best at the position across the league.
Darius Slay's match-and-mirror ability is still up there with the best in the NFL.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 19, 2020
Shadowing every team's top receiver in and away from the slot is a tall order, but he was always in his opponent's hip pocket — some of his best reps are on catches allowed. pic.twitter.com/mv3MyJG2AZ
Slay has familiarity with the Eagles staff.
Another thing worth noting is that the Eagles and Slay have familiarity with one another. For one, Slay had a pretty impressive interception on Carson Wentz and the Eagles back in 2016 that won the game for the Lions.
Carson Wentz is going to have to step up big time in these two weeks without DeSean/Alshon.— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) September 18, 2019
It doesn’t get any easier for him as he’s up against top corner Darius Slay, who’s coming off a game sealing interception against the Chargers. Oh and he owns Carson’s first career INT. pic.twitter.com/dNZuseWu0L
More importantly, though, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz knows all about his newest corner. Schwartz was the head coach of the Detroit Lions when Darius Slay was drafted with the 36th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. You can bet that Schwartz wanted the three-time Pro Bowler and 2017 first team All-Pro in his secondary.
The Eagles know that they have holes to fill at wide receiver and in the secondary. An aggressive move such as trading for a defensive back of Slay’s caliber, along with signing free agent defensive lineman Javon Hargrave and still having an opportunity to focus on a wideout with their first-round pick, show that the Eagles believe they can be the first team to repeat as NFC East champions since 2004.
The other side for the Cowboys.
On the flip side, the Cowboys have a rising star quarterback and a number two wide receiver that has already caught for over 1,000 yards in his young career.
Dak Prescott put up the best numbers of his career in 2019, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. Prescott took the next step as a passer last season as he looked more confident passing the football and his mechanics continued to improve. Against a Lions secondary that featured Darius Slay and Justin Coleman (who is better than any other Eagles defensive back), Prescott threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns on 63% last season.
.@dak was nothing short of amazing against the Lions on Sunday. The @dallascowboys QB is in complete command of his offense. Don't be surprised if we continue to hear Dak's name come up in MVP conversations. #BaldysBreakdowns #Cowboys #DakPrescott pic.twitter.com/fd30yPew8K— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 18, 2019
As for Michael Gallup, he showed signs of becoming a legitimate WR2 last season. While other teams focused on Cooper, the Colorado State product was able to do damage against CB2s en route to totaling 66 catches for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns. Versus Detroit in 2019, Gallup grabbed nine catches for 148 yards. He is averaging nearly 14 yards per reception against the Eagles in four games, per Pro Football Reference.
The Cowboys are fortunate to have one of the better WR1-WR2 combinations across the league in Cooper and Gallup, making it difficult for defenses to stop both of them.
There is reason to believe that Mike McCarthy will help take Prescott and these receivers to the next level. Assuming that Dallas is able to add a slot through free agency or in the draft, it will be a challenge to contain the Dallas offensive attack.
It will be fun to watch the battles that McCarthy, Prescott, and Cooper have against Schwartz and Slay as both teams fight for the division crown.