Lions' Amani Oruwariye hoping to secure contract extension, build on last season's success
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions, under the stewardship of general manager Brad Holmes, have prioritized developing and retaining productive talent that fits the team's culture.
Like Walker last season, Oruwariye appears content to dodge questions about his contract status as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.
"My focus has mostly been on just getting back around the guys," Oruwariye said Wednesday after one of the team's early OTA sessions. "I kind of leave that between them and my agent. But I’m happy to be in a position to be even having those kind of talks, but I just try not to worry about it and worry about the season coming up."
But make no mistake about it, Oruwariye's preference is to stay with the only NFL team he's known.
"Absolutely," he said. "I love Detroit. I love being here. I love everything it’s given me — giving me a chance to play in the NFL. Ideally, that’s where I want to be at."
Obviously, contract negotiations for talented players are complex. The rising salary cap led to some astronomical deals in free agency, including a five-year, $82.5 million pact for cornerback J.C. Jackson. The Lions have to figure out where Oruwariye's value stands in relation to that top of the market.
Jackson finished second in the NFL with eight interceptions. Oruwariye was third with six, despite missing the final three games with a thumb injury. The key will be maintaining and building on that success, similar to Jackson, who had nine picks the prior season.
Near the end of 2021 campaign, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said the next step for Oruwariye was to develop from a good cornerback to a clear-cut No. 1 option for Detroit's defense.
"Shutdown corner," Glenn said, when asked what that next level looks like. "Shutdown corner as far as his man (coverage) skills, as far as his off-man skills. We already know that he can go and get the ball. Can you put him on the best guy? Can he take that guy out? And, I think that’s what every corner wants to be able to do."
That's a vision Oruwariye shares and embraces.
“Most definitely," he said. "I think I would love any kind of responsibility that brings. Because to me — like I said before — if you’re a corner in this league, you’re working your tail off, you’re making plays to become that No. 1 corner. You want that respect around the league, from receivers, from other corners, from your teammates, your locker room. So that’s always been a goal to be able to be that guy that has to step up to the plate every game, for sure."
Impressively, Oruwariye's 2021 improvements came playing behind one of the NFL's least productive defensive fronts. For the third consecutive season, the Lions ranked in the bottom five of the NFL in quarterback pressure rate.
Improving the pass rush has been a point of emphasis this offseason, both with schematic adjustments and personnel additions. That was highlighted by the selection of Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 2 pick in the draft.
“It’s huge," Oruwariye said. "It’ll be great for the pass rush, it’ll be huge for the run-stopping as well. But as a corner, we’re pretty happy to see guys like that in front of us. Less time having to cover some of these elite receivers out there. When you put it all together, it just ultimately will help us and our defense as a whole.”