The Detroit Lions face a ton of big decisions this offseason. Should they draft a quarterback? What scheme should they be running on both sides of the ball? Should they continue gathering draft capital or use the picks they have to get an elite talent at the top of the draft?
But in terms of players that are already on the roster, no decision may be bigger than that of wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who is scheduled to become a free agent in March. The Lions failed to reach an extension agreement with Golladay last year, and after a complicated 2020 season, it’s unclear where his future lies with the team. So let’s take a closer look at Golladay’s situation.
Expectations heading into 2020
Golladay was coming off his best career season yet in 2019. After earning his first Pro Bowl nod and leading the NFL in touchdown receptions, the hope was that Golladay would take another jump in his career to put his name aside the top-five receivers in the league. Here’s offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell prior to the 2019 season, via the Detroit News:
“There’s specific things that we’re talking to him that he can take his game to the next level, but really you want him to ... be thought of in those upper-echelon guys with the (DeAndre) Hopkins, (Michael) Thomas and those those type of players, where he really is dictating to the defense like how they have to cover.”
In other words, Gollady was expected to be one of the biggest talents in the league at wide receiver and build upon his back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Actual role in 2020
5 games (5 starts): 20 catches, 338 yards, 2 TDs
PFF grade: 81.6 (Did not qualify for ranking, but would’ve been 18th among WRs)
Safe to say, Golladay came up well short of his expectations in 2020. He entered the season with a nagging hamstring injury, and he left the season with a hip injury that lingered for a couple months.
And while injuries will certainly define his 2020 season, at times he displayed why he is such a unique talent that can take over games singlehandedly. Whether it was his four catch, 105-yard performance against the Jaguars that caused him to immediately go on Instagram and proclaim, “This shit gone cost you!” or his highlight reel machine of a game against the Falcons, when Golladay was healthy, he was still dominant.
Outlook for 2021
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
So what do the Lions do now that Golladay is set to become a free agent? From Golladay’s point of view, he has said all the right things about wanting to come back, so it appears a re-signing is certainly on the table. And with Marvin Jones Jr. almost certainly on his way out and Danny Amendola potentially looking at retirement, Detroit needs to get their wide receiver situation in order.
So that leaves the Lions with three realistic options: re-sign Golladay, hit him with franchise tag, or let him walk in free agency. Let’s go through all three.
It’s unclear exactly how much Golladay is asking for on the free market, but there are rumors he turned down a deal worth around $16 million a year. Spotrac has his market value just barely above that at $17 million a year, and PFF’s salary cap analyst Brad Spielberger told us last year, he expected Golladay to garner over $18 million a year.
Detroit doesn’t have a ton of cap room to spare after taking on Jared Goff’s contract, and investing long term in a 27-year-old receiver may not be how they want to spend their remaining cap resources. That being said, Detroit’s cupboard is completely bare at receiver, and keeping a guy that can be your No. 1 for at least the next three or four years makes sense.
Franchise tag Golladay
Though the salary cap has yet to be set for 2021, the estimated franchise tag cost for a wide receivers should be around $16.4 million per Over The Cap.
So if the Lions are uncertain about their long-term commitment to Golladay, the franchise tag would offer a slightly cheaper, shorter term option for Detroit. It would undoubtedly upset Golladay, but the wide receiver has already said that if the team uses the tag on him, he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, suggesting he’d play without putting up a stink.
“If the franchise tag would come, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. So yeah, for sure I want to get a long-term deal done,” Golladay said back in December.
Tagging Golladay also gives the Lions the option to tag and trade him. Much like the Jaguars with Yannick Ngakoue, the Lions could place the franchise tag on Golladay, and once he signs his one-year tender, the team could pursue trades. This way the Lions don’t have to hand out a huge contract, and they can ensure they get a solid return for letting Golladay go, rather than rely on the possibility of getting a compensatory pick in the future by just letting him hit free agency.
Let Golladay walk
This is the most economical route to go, seeing as every other route is likely going to cost the Lions at least $15 million, likely more. With that extra money, the Lions could go the cheaper route by adding a guy like Josh Reynolds in free agency or using their top draft pick on one of the elite receiver talents in this year’s class (or both).
In addition to that, the Lions seem likely to land at least a third-round compensatory pick for Golladay should he sign a monster deal elsewhere and the Lions remain somewhat inactive during free agency.
The big drawback, obviously, is that the Lions would be losing of the best players currently on the team. No rookie or free agency signing is likely to have the kind of impact Golladay would have in 2021 and maybe even 2022. Letting talented players walk can be a good business decision, but it can also earn a team the reputation of being “cheap” and not treating its players right. For a franchise determined to building a solid culture in Detroit, that may not be a great way to kick things off.
Overall, I think giving Golladay the franchise tag is the perfect half-measure for the Lions right now. It wouldn’t be a huge financial burden, and it affords them some time to decide whether Golladay is part of their long-term plans or not.
What should the Lions do with Golladay?
This poll is closed
Re-sign him (assume $17-19M per year)
Franchise tag him
Let him walk