Niyo: Lions’ Kenny Golladay banks on big season for deserved payday

Detroit News

Kenny Golladay says he’s ready.

Ready to sign on the dotted line and then prove he’s worth it. Ready to be paid like a star and then play like one. Ready, too, to help lead the Lions somewhere they haven’t been since he arrived.

But more than anything, he says, he’s just ready to play.

“I’m ready to get this thing going,” the Lions’ top receiver said Monday, smiling after the first day of padded practice at training camp in Allen Park. “Been without football for a long time, so it was really good just to be back. First day of pads, there’s a lot of fun going around, and I think a lot of guys on the team are excited. This should be a good year for us.”

Should be? Could be.

But it’s shaping up to be a great one for Golladay, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and is poised to cash in with a new contract, though he had nothing new to report on that front Monday as he met with the media for the first time this offseason.

Golladay, a 2017 third-round pick, is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to earn $2.1 million this season — a relative pittance based on his production. But on the heels of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons — he caught 65 passes for 1,190 and a league-high 11 touchdowns in 2019 — he’s due for a big raise, and sooner rather than later.

“Hopefully” before the season, he said Monday, though Golladay is quick to point out it’s a two-way street when it comes to negotiations like this.

“I can only control what I can control,” Golladay said. “I want to be here. Really, I’m just gonna let my agent and front office take care of that. I’m pretty sure something will get done.”

Prime-time stage

Lions general manager Bob Quinn won’t talk publicly about contract talks, but Golladay obviously is in line for a massive raise. Exiting his rookie deal, he’s about to enter his prime — he turns 27 in November — and even his coaches are talking about the opportunity Golladay has to become one of the NFL’s elite receivers.

“There’s specific things that we’re talking to him that he can take his game to the next level,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said earlier this month. “Really, you want him to be thought of with the (DeAndre) Hopkins and (Michael) Thomas and those type of players, where he is really dictating to the defense how they have to cover him. …

“That’s really where we’re trying to get him to, be that dominant-level player.”

That’s why it’s probably in Quinn’s best interest to lock him up now with an extension, one that should pay him $17-18 million or more per season — putting him in the top 10 at his position — when the two sides finishing hashing out the numbers.

The pandemic has created some uncertainty about the league’s salary cap moving forward, but top players are still going to get paid. Even if the next year’s cap is set at the floor limit of $175 million, per last month’s agreement between the NFL and the players’ union, the franchise tag for a receiver still would be about $15.7 million for next season.

Meanwhile, Golladay’s production figures to keep climbing as quarterback Matthew Stafford’s No. 1 target.

“I think Kenny has done a heck of a job,” Stafford said. “He obviously wasn’t a first-round pick, a guy that everybody was ranting and raving about before the draft. But we got him.”

Plays for a player

And then head coach Matt Patricia went out last year and got Bevell, whose offense quickly proved to be a much better fit for the Lions’ personnel.

“What I did like last year, Bev, even with that being our first year with each other, he just put a lot of trust into me and Marv,” Golladay said, referencing veteran outside threat Marvin Jones Jr.   “He put a lot of trust into (Stafford). And even if we did miss a big play going down the field, he never stopped calling them. He wanted me and Marv to be aggressive, and (Stafford.) We like being aggressive. We like taking shots downfield.”

It showed, as Stafford was on pace to throw for 5,000 yards before a back injury cut short his season in early November. And no one was benefiting more from Bevell’s emphasis on the play-action pass than Golladay, who recorded seven of his 11 touchdowns and four of his five 100-yard receiving games in the first eight weeks of the season. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of Stafford’s first-down throws went 15-plus yards in the air — tops in the league — according to Sharp Football Stats, and Golladay’s 18.3 yards per catch ranked third in the NFL.

“He’s obviously super-talented and does amazing things for us on the football field,” Patricia said. “But he works really hard. And I’ve just absolutely loved his growth over the last couple years, handling more responsibility, more notoriety from the standpoint of defenses knowing (where he is) — he’s not gonna sneak up on anybody, that’s for sure. And just seeing the different coverages and his development there has been awesome.”

Golladay spent part of his offseason training in southern California at a facility run by performance coach Travelle Gaines, working out with fellow NFL wideouts Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, among others. And after a brief stint earlier this month on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list following a positive test — Golladay said he had only minor symptoms, including a fever — he’s a full-go now in practice. He turned in one of the highlight-reel plays of Monday’s 90-minute workout, leaping for a touchdown grab in the back of the end zone over safety Tracy Walker and cornerback Justin Coleman.

“Each year I just want to keep going up and up,” he said. “I feel like last year I built off the year before. And I just want to keep improving.”

jniyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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