What Could Lions Get In Darius Slay Trade?

The calls are coming in, as the trade deadline looms.

Will Burchfield
October 28, 2019 - 2:01 pm

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The trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m., and the Lions tout one of the most appealing players on the market: Darius Slay. 

This is not to say general manager Bob Quinn is shopping the Pro Bowl cornerback. But the Lions have been getting calls on Slay since he declined to commit to the organization last week in the wake of the Quandre Diggs trade. This comes on the heels of Slay's failed attempt get an extension in the offseason. He remains under contract through 2020, with a cap hit of about $16 million this season and $13.4 million next. 

Of note: Since 2014, Slay leads the NFL in passes defended (89) and is tied for the lead in picks (18). The Lions will want a healthy return. 

A trade is unlikely to start with. Detroit's secondary was exposed on Sunday without Slay, and Quinn and Matt Patricia are in no position to essentially forfeit another season. The playoffs already look like a longshot, but it's a shot the Lions have to take. And they're not taking it by trading their best playmaker on defense. 

But if they're listening to offers, it's worth wondering what they could get. At the right price, maybe they can't say say no. Let's look at a few recent trades involving starting cornerbacks to get an idea.

2019

  • Gareon Conley to Houston. Oakland receives 3rd round pick (2020). 
  • Jalen Ramsey to Los Angeles. Jacksonville receives 1st rounder (2020), 1st rounder (2021), 4th rounder (2021). 
  • Marcus Peters to Baltimore. Los Angeles receives 5th rounder (2020), LB Kenny Young. 

If the Lions are offered two first-round picks for Slay, they'll quickly pull the trigger. But it's not happening. Ramsey is younger than Slay, and frankly, better. He might not boast the same stats, but his coverage skills are superior. And the Jags' return was better than most could have expected. Slay's trade value is probably closer to Conley, all things considered. Conley, who burst onto the scene last year, has a low cap hit this season and next and a team option for 2021. If the Lions trade Slay, maybe they'll target a pick plus a rising young player, like the Rams did with Peters. 

2018

  • Eli Apple to New Orleans. Giants receive 4th rounder (2019), 7th rounder (2020). 
  • Aqib Talib to Los Angeles. Denver receives 5th rounder (2018). 
  • Marcus Peters (plus 6th rounder) to Los Angeles. Kansas City receives 2nd rounder (2019), 4th rounder (2018). 

This Peters trade might be a good place to start with Slay. At the time, Peters was regarded as one of the top corners in the game, and the Chiefs sold high. It looks like a smart move in hindsight. The difference versus Slay is that Peters was still on his rookie contract. From that standpoint, Slay compares more closely to Talib, who carried a cap hit of $11 million in 2018 and $8 million in 2019. But Talib's age and declining play limited his value as much as anything. Apple was the only corner dealt at the deadline last season, and the Giants did well to get two picks in return. 

So what did we learn? For one, top cornerbacks aren't often on the market, and they're even less frequently on the move. They're one of the most valuable commodities in today's NFL. Slay, who's widely considered one of the league's 10 best corners, will attract plenty of suitors. But the finances matter, and the Lions aren't in the best position with a player who's already making $12 million per year and is (justifiably) angling for more. Ramsey, it should be noted, came to the Rams on his rookie contract and with the promise that he won't hold out next season in the absence of an extension. 

The Lions can probably land a first-round pick for Slay, certainly a second-rounder. Maybe they can lower their pick price and add a young player to the return, ideally one who can step in right away. (Running back? Pass rusher?) That would feel like fair market value. But the Lions, given their position, will want more than fair market value here. That might mean two high picks, say, a first-rounder and a third. Whether there's a buyer out there willing to pay that price is a different question. But it doesn't feel like the Lions are trading Slay barring an offer they can't refuse.

The dude is too good, and this defense is too bad without him. And after punting on last season and then spending big in the offseason, Quinn and Patricia need to start playing to win. Quinn is an even .500 through 55 games as GM. Patricia is four games under .500 halfway through his second season as head coach. This is not the time to be selling, and the team didn't view the Diggs trade as such a move. This is the time to make a push, crowded as the NFC playoff race might be, and Slay is as key to making that happen as anyone on this team. It doesn't mean he's off the market. 

It just means the market better skyrocket for the Lions to listen.