EDITORIAL: ‘Big Play Slay’ has earned his pay day

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The time has come for the Detroit Lions to pay cornerback Darius Slay what he deserves. Therein lies the rub. Just how much money do the services of the fourth-year cornerback warrant? Extension talks have begun with one year left on his rookie contract, but a deal has yet to be made.

After a solid 2016 campaign, where he was ranked the second-best corner in the entire NFL by Pro Football Focus’ objective grading scale, Slay’s value is skyrocketing. But not everyone seems to agree on his monetary worth.

Some can’t look past one sub-par game in 2015 against the Denver Broncos where two Pro Bowl receivers got the best of Slay despite his sticky coverage. Others understand that every corner is subject to a lackluster performance now and then. Even Darrelle Revis in his prime allowed a touchdown a time or two.

Recently, Slay was interviewed regarding where he saw himself relative to the rest of the league. In a roundabout way, he admitted that he envisioned himself as a “top 7” corner. If you were to look at the 7th-highest paid corner in the league, he is averaging just over $12 million a year. There is a $2 million dollar price difference between the No. 7 and 8 spots, likely the calculated reasoning for his rather random top “seven” self-assessment.

2016 Cornerback Average Salary Rankings:

PLAYER
AVERAGE
1

Josh Norman

$15,000,000
2

Darrelle Revis

$14,024,212
3

Patrick Peterson

$14,010,000
4

Richard Sherman

$14,000,000
5

Trumaine Johnson

$13,952,000
6

Joe Haden

$13,500,000
7

Janoris Jenkins

$12,500,000
8

Byron Maxwell

$10,500,000

 

When determining an appropriate price tag for our rising star, you can no longer reference contracts drawn up before this past offseason. Due to the recent spike in the salary cap, comparing the salaries of any contract older than 2016 is severely outdated and deceiving. If you notice, four of the top seven contracts were handed out this year.

By looking at the highest paid free agents of the most recent league year, we realize that prices on young talent are growing exponentially. It would benefit Detroit to sign an extension now before the cornerback market gets out of hand. Below are some salary figures of three recent cornerback cap numbers.

Player (Team) Years Total Salary Signing Bonus Average Salary  Guaranteed
Josh Norman (WAS) 5 $75,000,000 $15,000,000 $15,000,000 $50,000,000
Janoris Jenkins (NYG) 5 $62,500,000 $10,000,000 $12,500,000 $28,800,000
Sean Smith (OAK) 4 $38,000,000 $5,000,000 $9,500,000 $20,000,000

 

Norman was somewhat of a one-year wonder whose outstanding 2015 campaign was glorified due to an unexpected 15-1 regular season campaign and Super Bowl run by the Carolina Panthers. If Norman was with the Lions, he would be far less appreciated.

Half the battle is media exposure when trying to get the big money — something the Lions rarely have. Norman does not have a long history of success to back up his record contract either.

It wasn’t long ago when Norman was on the roster bubble. The Panthers realized his inflated self-value and released the headstrong coverman. Not to mention, he will turn 29-years old in December — no spring chicken in NFL standards. With all that was just said, his play still garnered a $15 million a year paycheck. Slay’s “top 7” asking price of ≈$11-12 million/year is a steal when put next to the Redskins new (a better word might be “used”) toy.

Next on the list is Janoris Jenkins. He suffers from what is called “Dre Bly syndrome.” The fifth-year corner takes too many chances which lead to occasional interceptions as well routinely being torched in coverage. The diminutive ballhawk has allowed a whopping 22 touchdowns in his first four years in the league. Within the last four years, Jenkins has given up 2,989 yards to opposing wideouts (third most by any CB since 2012).

His ‘guessing game’ habits led the St. Louis Rams to franchise tag his fellow 2012 draftee Trumaine Johnson and let Jenkins walk. Slay is much more reliable, never gets outright burned, and justly deserves more than Jenkins $12.5 mil/year he received from the overly generous Giants. The G-Men may have set the bar too high.

Lastly, Sean Smith. This eight-year veteran has never had more than two interceptions in a season. His career has been filled with ups and downs. The juxtaposition to Slay isn’t a seamless comparison due to the age disparity, but it’s important to note the price tag of even an aging above average veteran.

He had no problem hauling in a sizeable contract despite his age. The 6-foot-3 Smith does possess a unique skill set that most corners could only dream of. His imposing figure allows him to hang with any big-bodied wideout, but his quickness leaves some to be desired. Averaging $9.5 million a year to the soon to be 29-year old, Smith set the floor for other CBs of his caliber.

Based on projection and future promise alone, Slay deserves to be better compensated.

If in fact Slay is only asking for roughly $12 million a year, that would be a steal in today’s environment. He would make well above that figure on the open market in a year where the salary cap is expected to grow significantly once again. The first time Slay puts together a 5-intercpetion year, start backing up the money trucks.

Even if you don’t agree Slay is a top-10 corner at this moment, you could extrapolate his growth and project him to be one sooner than later. Most of the top ranked corner are in their later 20’s and will soon begin their decline, pushing Slay up the ranks by default.

Slay possesses all the talent in the world, his potential is off the charts. He has a good head on his shoulders and isn’t a liability off the field.

Every passing day, Slay’s value increases as other exorbitant contracts continue to be dished out. In a couple years, Slay’s would-be contract will be chump change at the rate players are getting paid AND he would just be entering the prime of his career. It’s time to pay up now for our future’s sake.