This is part one of Greg’s three part series analyzing the Detroit Lions contract options with Darius Slay
The Detroit Lions find themselves at a major crossroads coming into the 2020 season. While none of those should have anything to do with the future of Matthew Stafford, ownership has a big decision about what to do with the third longest-tenured Lion, Darius Slay. Slay was the second round draft pick of Martin Mayhew in 2013, and since 2014 he has mostly kept his half of the field locked down tight. However, with Slay’s contract set to expire after the 2020 season and no guaranteed money on the books for this season, many are wondering if last year’s holdout will be a precursor to what we should expect this offseason. Add to the mix ownership’s “meaningful December” mandate, and Bob Quinn is left sitting on a powder keg of perilous options for his star cornerback. Over the next few days, we’re going to take a look into just what the Detroit Lions options are.
Just the facts
Darius Slay is one of the most popular players on this team. Not just in the locker room, but the community as well. Slay is often seen attending area high school football games, regularly interacts with fans on Twitter, and is the type of guy that anyone would want to build their team around. It’s what’s made him feel accessible and beloved to the Lions fan base. But Slay is quickly on the precipice of turning 30; that not-so-magical age, where many cornerbacks fall off the proverbial cliff. We’ve seen it happen to so many over the years, and based on 2019 being Slay’s worst PFF-graded season since his rookie year, it seems fair to ask the question; “have we seen the last of Darius Slay in Honolulu Blue?” In 2016 Slay signed a 4-year, $51.33 million contract extension, with $23.1M fully guaranteed at signing. That deal has Slay under contract with the Lions through the end of the 2020 season, but after the 2018 season, there was no guaranteed money left. That lead to Slay holding out through voluntary mini-camp and mandatory mini-camp last offseason, and many speculated it could have kept him from being at his best during the 2019 season. Without a new deal in place, there is anticipation that Slay could repeat a similar holdout this year. With those things in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the team’s options for 2020.
Option One: Pay the man
Almost any time we hear about a player asking for more money, we hear echoes of Teddy KGB in our ears, “pay that man his money.” But what is Slay worth? Based on his Twitter response the other day, it sounds like he’s looking for north of $16M/year, and after Josh Norman’s recent release by the Redskins, that would make Slay the second-highest-paid corner in the league, behind only the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore. In a vacuum that may feel like it’s just too much to pay for a 30-year-old corner, coming off of his worst-rated season since his rookie year. But football isn’t played in a vacuum, and outside factors always come into play.
The Lions are currently around $45M under the cap, although as Ash discussed last week, their truly functional cap number is a little closer to $60M upfront. Now, once we take out the money to pay this year’s rookie class and account for Bob Quinn’s $10M rainy day fund, the team is left with around $36M to spend. Next, let’s say Golladay gets his extension that we’re all predicting. Let’s use Spotrac’s estimated value of $15.5M/year AAV. That’s $13.5M more than Golladay is slated to make so far in 2020, bringing the offseason war chest down to $21.5M left.
The effect of a Darius Slay extension on the salary cap
An extension for Slay to move to $16M/year would bring his cap hit up $3M; taking the Lions’ offseason money down to $18.5M. Now, it’s often said that the salary cap is a social construct, and can be manipulated to do pretty much whatever we need it to do, but Bob Quinn has so far been really good at not perpetually kicking the can down the road by like his predecessors so often did. If he could get Slay to take $15M/year and add one more year to his deal with a decent amount of guaranteed money, it could become much more palatable, even if they’re forced to overpay him a little. The Lions could even take a page out of the Patriots’ playbook and add an automatically voidable year onto the deal, to spread out the cap hit over three seasons to make it a bit more palatable. As I said, the salary cap is a social construct.
Extending Slay is an option that should be considered. Especially if the team winds up drafting Jeffery Okudah early. A 1-2 punch combo of Slay/Okudah for 2019, and then Okudah can take over as the 1 and Slay the 2 in 2020. There’s no substitute for learning under the wing of one of the League’s best, and Slay has said he already reached out to Okudah, showing himself to be the kind of guy who doesn’t shy away from mentoring his potential future replacement. If you’re going to overpay, getting a 2-for-1 special may very well be something that may be worth overpaying for.
Thanks for reading! Watch for part 2 of this series tomorrow where we’ll discuss the “Trade” option. Don’t forget to follow @GregWarren2 on Twitter, and share your thoughts on the Detroit Lions Subreddit!