‘I love Detroit’: Slay still seeking big deal with Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Lions cornerback Darius Slay readies for a reception during secondary drills.

Allen Park — Darius Slay hired a new agent in January with hopes of signing a contract extension before the 2016 season begins.

Obviously, another stellar season would raise his price tag, but the main reason Slay wants a new deal is his desire to stay with the Lions for a long time.

“I’d like to stay in Detroit,” he said after minicamp Tuesday. “This is the team that drafted me. I love Detroit, man. … I love the city, I love the fans, so that’s why I came to them asking for (an extension).

“Detroit is like my second home, man. Detroit took a chance on me to provide for my family, so I should give them everything I work hard for. I’d like to continue to play here and keep doing what I’m doing.”

And even though some players are cheaper to sign a year before free agency, Slay’s comments on Tuesday show that his services shouldn’t come at a discount. Just three years into his career, he thinks he’s already one of the seven best cornerbacks in the NFL — behind Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Joe Haden.

“(Those) are the real elite, elite, elite guys,” he said. “So, I feel like I’m an elite guy, but I feel like I’ve got to keep working to get to their level, though.”

And Slay is obviously working. He recently talked about going to “hands school” in order to have more interceptions this season. Sure enough, after practice on Tuesday, he caught 70 passes on the JUGS machine. He said he caught 40 before practice, too, which is in line with his plan to catch 100 each day of practice.

If the Lions think Slay truly is in the elite class of cornerbacks, he's in for a massive payday. Out of the six cornerbacks Slay listed ahead of himself, Harris has the cheapest contract at an average annual value of $9 million.

Slay said he didn’t have any update on contract talks between his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and the Lions. Rosenhaus, who also represent the mysteriously-still-employed Stephen Tulloch, has been at the team’s Allen Park facility twice in the past month.

“He said he’s going to let me know sooner or later,” Slay said of his agent. “I’d just like to keep it between them because I don’t want to be distracted.”

Obviously, a lingering contract issue could become a distraction, but Slay said he wouldn’t worry if something doesn’t get done before the season. Slay is among a handful of 2013 draft picks who would make logical extension candidates this offseason, akong with defensive end Devin Taylor, running back Theo Riddick, guard Larry Warford and punter Sam Martin.

“It ain’t going to weigh on me because I’m a player, man,” Slay said. “I just play ball. I don’t worry about no weighing. It’ll come.”

The expectation that Slay will soon get a big payday would’ve been shocking just a couple years ago. As a rookie Slay struggled mightily, losing his starting job just two weeks into the season, leading to some doubt about the second-round pick’s future.

Then, the Lions hired Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator and Tony Oden as cornerbacks coach, and with additional mentorship from Rashean Mathis, Slay has kept improving.

“When (Austin) came in, he trusted me and gave me the chance that I needed,” he said. “Of course I was a rookie making mistakes, but he let me learn from my mistakes and keep playing and don’t take my confidence away.”

Slay said Tuesday that he’s not “a real cocky guy,” but he’s already reached the point where two of the cornerbacks he admits are better — Sherman and Haden — have praised him.

One time when Slay was playing a “Call of Duty” game online with Lions wide receiver Golden Tate, Sherman was on their team, too, and Tate introduced his former teammate to his current one on the gaming headset.

“ ‘Oh Slay, 23?’ ” Slay said, recalling what Sherman said. “ ‘Oh, that young boy ballin’. I said, ‘Ooh!’

“That’s all I needed to hear.”

Just in case that sounds like a fantasy, Tate confirmed the exchange, saying that Slay didn’t even sound starstruck based on what Tate heard on the headset. Of course, there is a next step for Slay in terms of respect from his peers.

“When somebody sees me, I want to see them ask for my jersey instead of me asking for theirs,” he said.