ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — This has become a familiar situation for the Detroit Lions: A top defensive player is entering the last year of his contract, and his long-term status is in question.
Cornerback Darius Slay is in that position now, heading into the fourth and final season of his rookie deal. The past two offseasons, it was DeAndre Levy and Ndamukong Suh who had expiring contracts.
Levy agreed to an extension last year, but two years ago, the Lions couldn’t reach a deal with Suh, who played out his final season in Detroit and left via free agency.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Slay said Tuesday on the first day of Detroit’s mandatory minicamp. “As of right now, I’m just working.”
The 25-year-old Slay could be in line for a nice payday soon. After three seasons, he’s become an important part of the Detroit secondary and the type of young player who may be valuable to the Lions for years to come.
Last season, there were five games in which Slay allowed fewer than 10 yards receiving and seven in which he allowed two or fewer catches, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Slay is a big part of what we do. ... We put a lot of pressure on our corners, a lot of responsibility on our corners,” Lions safety Glover Quin said. “Having a guy like Slay that can hold his own on his side is big. He’s a very, very, very talented guy.”
Slay chatted with reporters Tuesday about his teammates in the secondary — and about that night’s Beyonce show at Ford Field. He said he’d like to stay in Detroit, but he downplayed the significance of any contract talks.
“I just try to work and stay focused. I feel like it’s going to come whenever,” Slay said. “I don’t want to be distracted. I just want to help the team get better.”
The past two offseasons, Detroit has had to deal with contract speculation about Suh and Levy. Suh ended up leaving for Miami after his deal with the Lions was up. Levy signed a four-year extension before last season, but the linebacker was limited to one game in 2015 because of hip trouble, so Detroit will have to hope that deal still pays dividends in the future.
The Lions announced their deal with Levy early last August, and talks with Suh the previous year were put on hold around the same time. While it’s possible to come to an agreement during the season, contract chatter can turn into a distraction if it lingers past the start of training camp.
“I feel like it should be done then, but who knows?” Slay said. “I’m just out here playing ball.”
NOTES: Coach Jim Caldwell talked a bit Wednesday about QB Jake Rudock, whom the Lions drafted this year out of Michigan. “I think you do understand how difficult it is to play that spot. There’s not a phase that he has under control at this point in time, which is what you’d expect,” Caldwell said. “It takes a while. ... He’s smart. He’s diligent, and he’s developing.”