Darius Slay is underpaid by NFL standard, but there’s no reason for the Lions to hand him a big money deal. Instead, they should trade the talented corner.
The Lions certainly aren’t blessed with the most talented secondary in the NFL. Losing Darius Slay would be a massive blow to Matt Patricia’s defense. It’s still the right move for a franchise that isn’t anywhere near ready to compete for a Super Bowl title.
As it stands, both Slay and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison are holding out of Detroit’s training camp in hopes of securing lucrative new contracts. The Pro Bowl cornerback makes no secret of his love for fans in Detroit, but that doesn’t mean he’s prepared to take a discount. Slay’s willingness to forego the $22 million guaranteed to him over the next two seasons in Detroit makes it clear he’s looking for a massive new contract.
In fairness to Slay, he’s got the talent and experience to command an improved, new deal. If the Lions were prepared to make a serious push for the NFC North title, it would make a lot of sense for the Detroit front office to make him one of the highest paid cornerbacks in the league. A deal approaching the $15 million and change both Xavien Howard and Josh Norman will make this season would be entirely reasonable.
The problem with the Lions giving Slay that type of deal is that he’s already 28 years old. The player and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are smart to be looking for one more big deal before the corner’s skills really start to decline, but the Lions don’t have to be the team caught on the hook to hand him such a large amount of cap space.
Instead, Patricia should take a lesson from his mentor’s playbook. There’s no way that the Patriots and Bill Belichick would give in to Slay’s demands. They would choose to either hold a hard-line and wait for him to report, or trade him to the highest bidder. The latter is the right course of action for the Lions to take.
Simply put, Detroit doesn’t have the talent to compete in their own division at the moment. The Bears, Vikings and Packers all have the makings of potential Super Bowl teams in 2019. The Lions are far and away the weakest of the four teams in the NFC North. That is a clear signal that Patricia and company should be looking to position their roster to compete in the future.
Even at 28, Slay is too advanced in his career to be a meaningful part of the next relevant Lions team. Instead of paying him his market value, the franchise should be working to flip him to a team in need of a boost at cornerback. Ideally, the Lions could turn Slay into future draft assets capable of helping them build a young corps for Patricia.
The logical question to ask is what Detroit might be able to get for Slay. It’s unlikely they could secure a first rounder for his services. Getting a second or third round pick should be the team’s goal. That sort of return might not sit well with the Lions’ passionate fan base, but it’s the right team building move.
The most likely outcome here is that the Lions will give Slay a new deal to get him into camp. That’s not a fatal mistake for the franchise, but it’s a missed opportunity to kick-start their necessary rebuild.