'A phenomenal leader': Ahead of Darius Slay's return, Eagles coach sings high praises

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Former Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia couldn’t wait to get Darius Slay out of the building. 

Which makes it a tad bit ironic that Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said Wednesday during a conference call with local reporters that he literally couldn’t wait to name Slay, a 10th-year corner who was drafted by the Lions with a second-round pick in 2013, as a team captain this past week.

“When Slay was voted captain, I was holding the votes until the next day,” Sirianni explained. “I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna tell them in the team meeting who the captain is tomorrow,’ but because of my love for Slay as a player, and the teammate and the leader that he is, I couldn’t hold it in. I told him after practice that day.”

Eagles defensive back Darius Slay.

By the time Patricia arrived in Detroit in 2018, Slay was already well on his way to being a star corner in the league. The season prior, he picked off eight passes and finished with All-Pro and Pro-Bowl honors for the first time in his career. 

Two years later, while Slay, now 31, was approaching the end of his contract — and after perceived issues of disrespect between coach and player — the Lions traded him to Philadelphia for third- and fifth-round picks during the 2020 offseason. Slay missed the Pro Bowl that year, but returned to form in the first year under Sirianni, who was hired by the Eagles in 2021.

Sirianni obviously has love for Slay’s ability between the lines, but he emphasized Slay as a leader and person during Wednesday’s call.

“Our players vote for the captains, but I’d be lying to say if I wasn’t saying, ‘Man, I really hope Slay gets voted by these guys, too,’” Sirianni said. 

“Slay is not a good leader — a phenomenal leader. I’m so glad he’s in this building. Not only is (he) a great playmaker, but the man loves football. He studies his butt off. He goes above and beyond to help his teammates and to be able to lead by example.”

He’s also still one heck of a football player. Lions quarterback Jared Goff, who will face Slay for the fourth time in his career this Sunday, couldn’t say enough about how much “respect” he has for the Philadelphia corner. 

“He’s so instinctual. He’s often visual, and instinctual, and obviously quick and has great hands. But he’s kind of never out of position is what I’ve seen from him over the years,” Goff said. “He’s always kind of in the right spot, always in phase, and always kind of near the ball. He’s a hell of a player and a guy that I’ve played against a couple of times and have a lot of respect for.”

During seven seasons with the Lions, Slay made 94 starts and intercepted 19 passes. Sunday’s season opener at Ford Field will mark Slay’s second return to Detroit as an Eagle. He returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown last season, as Philadelphia dismantled the Lions, 44-6, in Week 8. 

He’s picked off just four passes since joining the Eagles, but he’s maintained status as an effective piece past his 30th birthday, when most corners tend to slow down, and he's clearly an important voice in Philadelphia’s locker room.

“Man, I can’t say enough,” Sirianni added. “The play speaks for itself, but the person, it is so top-notch. And man, he’s a big reason for our success last year, and he’ll be a big reason for the good things that we hope to happen this year.”


Twitter: @nolanbianchi