Lions coach Matt Patricia said he's focused on the players at practice, not his two defensive stars who are eating a fine to skip the event. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — Darius Slay and Damon Harrison are committed to paying a small price now in hopes of securing a big deal in the coming months.
As had become expected in recent days, the two Detroit Lions defenders were absent from the start of the team's mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. Assuming they skip all three days of the event — and there's no reason to believe they won't — they'll be fined a total of $88,650.
"It’s nothing (that's) uncharted territory," Lions coach Matt Patricia said before the first practice. "We’re just focused on the guys that are here, we’re really just trying to get better. We’ve had great attendance through the spring, the guys here are trying to get better and that’s our main focus is to really improve the players out on the field."
Despite each having two years remaining on their current deals, both Slay and Harrison have made it known they're seeking new contracts.
Harrison, acquired at the trade deadline last season, is due a $6.75 million salary in 2019 before a raise to $9 million in 2020. Slay, who agreed to a four-year extension in 2016, has salaries of $12.55 million and $10 million the next two years. Both players sacrificed $250,000 workout bonuses this year when they stayed away during the voluntary portion of the offseason program in recent weeks.
There's little question, based on current performance, that Slay and Harrison are both underpaid. Slay, 28, has emerged as one of the game's best cornerbacks, earning Pro Bowl selections each of the past two seasons and first-team All-Pro honors in 2017. Yet his average earnings are 13th among cornerbacks, even though his base salary is second on to Jacksonville's A.J. Bouye.
Harrison's impact is more nuanced than what shows up in the box scores. A premier run-stopper on a defense that places a premium on that skill, the 30-year-old nose tackle was an unquestionable catalyst for Detroit's ability to bottle up opposing ground games down the stretch last season.
Harrison's average earnings on his current contract are 15th among defensive tackles and his 2019 salary ranks 12th at the position.
"For us, we roll with different situations that occur all the time during the season: Injuries, guys here, not here, whatever a case may be," Patricia said. "For us, internally, it doesn’t really affect us. We have great opportunities for guys that are here, great opportunities for guys to step up and get better, and be in positions for guys to have an opportunity."
While Patricia preaches the popular a next-man-up philosophy, Slay and Harrison are cogs not easily replaced. That gives them a modicum of leverage where players rarely have any.
Typically, teams hold all the power in these situations. If a player is under-performing, they can be cut without a second thought. Yet when things are reversed, there's rarely anything a player can do to maximize their earnings.
But there has been at least a small shift in the power dynamic between star players and teams in the past year. Wide receiver Antonio Brown was able to force his way out of Pittsburgh via trade to a team that willingly forked over the raise he was seeking. And, running back Le'Veon Bell rejected the franchise tag placed on him by the Pittsburgh Steelers, sitting out an entire year before signing a four-year, $52 million pact with the Jets this offseason.
For the Lions and general manager Bob Quinn, it's a tricky course to navigate. If he negotiates with one or both players, it's a potentially slippery slope.
As it currently stands, it's too early to classify the actions of the two players as holdouts. That will change if either absence extends into training camp, where teams are permitted to fine a player $40,000 for each day missed.