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Detroit Lions Roundtable: Will Kenny Golladay get the franchise tag?

The Pride of Detroit crew takes on the most pressing topic of debate for the Lions early this offseason: the future of Kenny Golladay.

Detroit Lions v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

First things first, if you’re unfamiliar with our roundtable or how it works, check out our archive and some of our recent discussions from seasons past:

After ownership completed their general manager and head coaching search, this new Detroit Lions regime wasted no time getting to work. In a move that will unquestionably define Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell’s tenure in Detroit, the team dealt Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a haul of draft picks and Jared Goff.

Now, after the Lions have most certainly downgraded at quarterback by exchanging Stafford for Goff, they could be on their way to potentially losing their best offensive skill position player—Kenny Golladay—at their thinnest positional group on the team—wide receiver.

Here is the topic of discussion for today’s Roundtable:

Will Kenny Golladay get the franchise tag?

Ryan Mathews: I’m so glad I don’t have to make this decision. Imagine trading the franchise’s greatest quarterback in Stafford and then having to follow that up with making this decision. Holy implications, Batman.

Jeremy Reisman: Yeah, Brad Holmes isn’t exactly running this thing with training wheels on. I think it’s important to note how this question is phrased. It’s not should the Lions use the franchise tag, but will they. Because, in my opinion, they shouldn’t.

I can’t think of a bigger waste of cap resources than around $16 million spent on a one-year deal for a wide receiver you failed to reach a long-term agreement with in the first place. Detroit’s salary cap situation is already a bit too snug after assuming the Jared Goff contract, so taking another big chunk out of it for a Golladay one-year rental during a season that likely won’t amount to much is ill-advised. The Lions should commit one way or another. Either move on and get a compensatory pick for him in 2022 or decide he’s part of your long-term plans and extend him. That way you can at least produce a manageable cap hit for the 2021 season.

Ryan: The cap is something that can’t be ignored when taking Golladay’s future with the Lions into consideration. As you said, Jeremy, something like $16 million spent on Golladay for this upcoming season—and a season where the team is just not really in the position to compete for anything significant—is the equivalent of Holmes putting himself in a straitjacket, suspending himself upside down, and submerging himself in water before free agency and the draft even take place. He’d truly have to Houdini his way through the rest of the offseason to come out alive with a team that would be even remotely competitive in 2021 because you also have to take into account the number of cap casualties franchise-tagging Golladay would require just for the team to sign bodies in free agency and sign whatever draft class the Lions put together.

Kyle Yost: Since my role on this website is to talk about getting rid of all of the team’s best players, this question is a pretty easy one for me. You both laid out a ton of reasons why it just does not make sense for Holmes to limit himself so significantly by using the franchise tag here, and for that reason, I cannot see it happening.

I think the compensatory pick should not be overlooked; Golladay himself was a third-round pick, and we have already seen how Holmes can make the most of Day 2 selections. From a value standpoint, it seems like a wash at worst to let Golladay walk and sign elsewhere, and while it will hurt the passing game in 2021, the financial savings are just too hard to ignore.

John Whiticar: You also have to wonder how Golladay fits into the Lions rebuild. Any team would love to have a player like Golladay. The question for Detroit is whether or not they can justify keeping him. What does the franchise tag accomplish? Keeping him around for one more season only to end up with the same conundrum a year later? The Lions are not going to compete in 2021 (at least I assume), so why spend that much money for a single year of Golladay? Golladay is 27 and coming off a down season. If there were any situation to sign him long-term, in order to maximize leverage and his prime years, it would be this year. Unless the organization truly views this as a quick turnaround, committing to Golladay long-term seems unlikely in my books.

Financials aside, will Golladay be as effective in a Jared Goff-led offense? Golladay’s best asset is his ability to nab contested catches. His weakness is separation. With a gunslinger like Matthew Stafford, he is a perfect fit as the top target. Goff, meanwhile, is better with a short passing game, and Golladay’s downfield abilities might not be fully utilized. Golladay is not a YAC-threat, nor is he shifty. He has decent speed if given the proper runway, but can he be as effective in short and intermediate routes? I would love to see him suit up again for Detroit, but who knows what direction the team should or will take.

Jeremy: Okay, here’s where the conversation turns, because, again, the question is “Will the Lions franchise tag Kenny Golladay?” And if the latest rumblings are true, the answer is yes. Ian Rapoport said he doesn’t see Golladay hitting free agency, and he isn’t the only one. Even some of Chris Spielman’s latest statements appear to be heavily in favor of keeping him.

So even though we all seem to hate the idea of it happening, let’s at least explore some positives.

For one, it gives the Lions some extra time to negotiate a long-term deal with Golladay, if that’s what they prefer. Again, a backloaded deal leaves the Lions with a lot more wiggle room in the immediate cap situation. And as John mentioned, this may be the perfect time to strike a deal after the wide receiver’s down year.

Additionally, it opens up the possibility of the ever-popular tag-and-trade. That route would guarantee a draft return (there is no guarantee in compensatory return), and it could potentially be higher than what the compensatory system would spit out.

I don’t like the idea of an expensive one-year deal, but it’s hard to ignore the positive avenues using the franchise tag would open up.

John: There was something touched upon in a recent PODcast, and I think it’s an underrated factor. Brad Holmes, and Dan Campbell by extension, are entering a completely new environment. Of the returning players, how many of them are undoubtedly frustrated with how the Matt Patricia years went? The revamp of the front office and coaching staff should spark some hope for players. However, how would it look to players to see the organization let a top talent like Golladay walk with minimal attempts to keep him? It is easy for armchair general managers to proclaim that a decision is obvious. In Madden, sure, moving on from Golladay makes sense. In real life football, signing Golladay, whether long-term or on the franchise tag, sends a message to players: we want to compete. Nobody wants to be part of a tanking team. Keeping some of the talent that made the Patricia years bearable would be a good first step for Holmes and company.

Ryan: Golladay isn’t taking anything less than what he thinks he deserves, so I don’t think anything about his “down” year in 2020—guess we’re calling it that because he was limited to just five games due to injury—would contribute to him taking a more palatable or team-friendly deal.

I do agree that signing Golladay to a long-term deal would send a message about not only the team’s intentions of being competitive but compensating top-tier talent appropriately. If the Lions want to get that done, and the franchise tag is a bridge to getting that long-term deal inked, I think the Lions will get that deal done.

Andrew Kato: Jeremy is keeping the focus on the right part of the question, but I think even his emphasis on “will” is not enough. It really should be “can” in the team’s current financial situation. As pointed out above, the franchise tag would cost the team $16 million. If this is a bridge to a longer term deal that would hit the cap less than $16 million in 2021 and could be signed quick enough to matter in terms of cap compliance, then you’d just sign that deal to begin with instead of messing around with the franchise tag (again, see Jeremy above).

POD contributor emeritus Kent Lee Platte pointed out that franchise tagging players does not often lead to extensions or trades: over the past five years, just a 25% chance of an extension and 12.5% chance of a trade. The most likely outcome is this is a one-year rental if the tag is used. If the team wants to keep Golladay for the long term, they are just going to sign that deal.

But let’s get back to the feasibility argument. In order to have the opportunity to demonstrate the “will” to use the tag, there must be the capability such that it “can” be used in the first place. The Lions are already over any reasonable expectation for the 2021 league-wide cap number. To clear the $16 million necessary to fund the tag on Golladay, the Lions would have to cut Desmond Trufant, Jesse James, Nick Williams, and Chase Daniel. All of them gone, opening holes which then need to be filled on the roster, just to bring back Golladay on the tag for one year.

Not to mention, we still haven’t opened any space to sign the draft class, and that’s after already cutting half the prospective cap savings contracts the Lions even have on the books. Whether anybody even wants to apply the franchise tag to Golladay or not, the people running the cap compliance will probably tell them the resources aren’t there to do it. Unless the Lions are going to cut a ton of veteran contracts for cap savings and run a bare bones operation (which would be tantamount to tanking, and as John pointed out nobody wants to play on a team with a tanking culture), they are going to have to burn into the $12.8 million cap carryover from 2020.

Is that what we want to do at the start of a rebuild? Burn cap reserves for a low-probability chance to extend a veteran who is ill-suited to the abilities of the quarterback the team intends to use as a starter? It’s hard to imagine the front office coming to a different conclusion from Jeremy (sorta) and Kyle and simply taking the compensatory pick chance.

Ryan: I love when Andrew brings it all together. <3

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