TWENTYMAN: Slay extension right model for Lions

Posted Jul 29, 2016

Just hours before the Lions started their first training camp practice, Darius Slay and the Lions agreed on a new four-year contract.

Darius Slay said all offseason that he wanted to stay a Detroit Lion long-term, and that he wanted a new deal before the start of training camp.

Done and done.

Just hours before the Lions started their first training camp practice Friday afternoon, Slay and the Lions agreed on a new four-year contract that will keep Slay a Lion through the 2020 season.

“I just feel like I’m a great player,” Slay told the media after Friday's practice. ”I watch film on a lot of guys, a lot of the top DB’s, and I just feel like I fit in that category. The Lions feel the same way and that’s why we got a deal done.”

Slay, 25, along with Ziggy Ansah, DeAndre Levy and Glover Quin make up the core of Detroit's defense. Slay has emerged as the Lions' clear No. 1 cornerback over the past two seasons. He leads a youthful Lions cornerback group that enters training camp with 2014 fourth-round pick Nevin Lawson slated to start opposite Slay on the outside and 2015 sixth-round pick Quandre Diggs starting in the nickel.

Slay was graded by Pro Football Focus as the No. 2 cornerback in all of football last season behind Tyrann Mathieu. He had 59 tackles and two interceptions. He’s even traveled at times with the opponent's best receiver, which shows how much confidence the Lions have in Slay’s abilities.

“Darius earned this extension, and we are happy to reward him accordingly,” Lions general manager Bob Quinn said in a statement. “We also are pleased to have finalized this now so the team and Darius can focus on the start of training camp and preparation for the upcoming season.”

A second-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2013, Slay started all 16 games the last two seasons and is credited with 30 passes defended and four interceptions. Locking up a young player of his ability was a terrific move by the Lions.

Slay said staying in Detroit was important to him. The first two players he told after signing the deal were Glover Quin and Rashean Mathis, two veterans he credits with helping him reach this point.

"I tried to hold my tears in but I couldn't too long," Slay said of signing the deal. "I cried on GQ's (Glover Quin) shoulder for a bit because he's seen me as a pup, a young guy. He seen me come up. I have to give credit to him and Shean (Rashean Mathis). They built me up, man, into the guy I am."

Slay said this offseason that the next step in his maturation is being more of a playmaker and increasing his interception totals. He took it upon himself to catch 1,000 passes before, during and after OTA and minicamp practices to help improve his hands.

“You know, I think that what you find about guys like him who have a lot of ability and talent that they start to work on what they consider to be things that are weaknesses, and try to hone in on those and I think that’s what he’s doing,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said of Slay earlier this offseason.

“He’s trying to isolate some things and trying to get a little bit better. There’s always room for improvement in our game, because if you’re not getting better your opponents certainly are.”

Slay was entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract signed in 2013 before the extension.

He becomes the second key home grown defender the Lions have signed in consecutive summers. The team re-upped with linebacker DeAndre Levy on a new four-year extension last August.

“That’s the plan. Build our own through the draft,” Lions team president Rod Wood said. “Find good guys. Extend them and keep them here. It’s a lot easier when you know the guy than signing them from free agency when you’re hoping you know them.

“We’re really happy it worked out this way.”

Slay was asked after Friday's practice if signing this deal now makes him an elite cornerback in this league.

"I make myself elite," he responded. "Money don't make me elite."