Hey, Detroit Lions: It’s time to show Kenny Golladay the money

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor
| Detroit Free Press

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ATLANTA — Kenny Golladay is playing the best football of his career. He is worth a lot more money than what he is paid. 

He knows it. The Detroit Lions know it. And, after helping the Lions to a miraculous win over the Falcons on Sunday, most of the football world knows it, too. 

So what that he took to Instagram a week ago after several did-you-see-that catches against Jacksonville and said he should get paid. He should. Before his rookie contract expires. 

When asked about the viral post, after a stellar performance against the Falcons, Golladay said, “I’m (gonna) let you figure out what it means.” 

Then he laughed. 

Good for him. It’s fun making game-changing plays. And it’s fun doing it in a year when your contract is up.  

As for the starchy organization that employs him somehow not liking his post? Well, this game is played by actual people. Not automatons.  

And the Lions are much better with him in their locker room.  

In measurables, Golladay is not an outlier. There are bigger receivers. There are faster receivers. There are a handful as big and faster.  

If you’re comparing numbers, the story is similar, as Golladay doesn’t quite have the stats of the league’s elite route runners, particularly in total catches, where he ranked 42nd among all pass catchers in 2019.  

And yet? 

He makes plays. And catches. Difficult catches. Catches that extend drives and catches that score points — he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns last season and was seventh in yardage amassed.  

And while he didn’t score a touchdown Sunday in Atlanta, but he caught passes that led to two field goals, including a spectacular, 29-yard high-point grab down the left sideline where he got hit as he caught it and held on even as he landed hard on his back. 

Then there was the 29-yarder that set up the winning touchdown, a route down the left seam that he ended by bending right and sealing the defender on his back so that only he could make the play. That came with 12 seconds left and gave the Lions enough time to run down and spike the ball at the Atlanta 11-yard-line with 3 seconds to go.  

“Kenny was feeling the same way I was feeling,” said Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. 

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Which is to say each knew that the pass had to reach over the deep linebacker, who was stationed some 20 yards back, yet drop in front of the safety, who was behind Golladay. It felt like a miracle as it unfolded in real time. On second viewing, and with the benefit of Stafford’s explanation, it felt like the result of talent and preparation and chemistry. 

Golladay is unquestionably Stafford’s most inviting target. He knows that all he has to do is get the ball somewhere in his considerable catch radius and that chances are good Golladay will come down with it.  

It’s hard to measure what that means. And while Stafford is quick to point to the bevy of veteran and emerging playmakers in the huddle — Marvin Jones, T.J. Hockenson, D’Andre Swift — he understands Golladay is his purest difference-maker.  

“He made some huge catches for us,” said Stafford. “Huge third down catches.” 

Catches that allow for days like Sunday, when a struggling team is feeling itself and the offense isn’t quite clicking, when the defense you prepared for looks a little different than the one staring at you across the line of scrimmage. 

“(They were) sending a bunch of pressures,” Stafford explained, “a bunch of unscouted looks, to be honest with you.” 

Which is to say he and the Lions’ offensive brain trust had to figure out to adapt. Golladay makes that so much easier.  

Think about his absence the first two games, and how limited the downfield attack was without him. And think about the next two games when Golladay was back, and he was trying to shake off his hamstring injury and find his flow. 

And then think about the catches he has made the last two weeks against Jacksonville and Atlanta. True, neither ranks among the league’s top defenses. But both are NFL teams with defensive backs that can make it difficult to get open. 

“When the ball is in the air, it’s not 50-50 with Kenny,” said Hockenson. “It’s almost 100% to him.” 

In other words, the Lions lose Sunday without him. They may have lost to the Jaguars, too. 

This isn’t to discount the defense, which played opportunistic football and forced a critical turnover in the fourth quarter. Nor is it to dismiss Stafford’s performance, arguably his best of the season. His pocket awareness was top-flight. Just look at the time he bought on the penultimate play of the game, as he slipped out to his left and waited for Hockenson to wiggle free. 

But Stafford’s numbers — and playmaking — aren’t the same without No. 19. Which is why the Lions need to pay him … soon. 

No matter that he took to Instagram to remind him — and everyone — of his worth. It’s not an accident that several of his teammates backed him up on the social media site.  

Golladay probably made himself even more money with Sunday’s effort. The Lions’ brass may not be fond of players taking negotiations public, but they should be fond of winning. 

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Besides, the idea that Golladay somehow broke a team-first rule by saying he should get paid is silly. Watch him play. Watch him go up and get balls without regard for his body. Watch him stretch out over the middle without fear of the defensive backs he surely sees from the corner of his eye, knowing he’s about to get pummeled.  

Does that look like a player who is in it for himself? 

This is 2020. Almost all of us live public lives. Public figures live even more publicly than they used to. Even the New England Patriots understand that.  

So should the Lions. It’s OK to pay players that believe in themselves and aren’t afraid to express that belief. It’s possible to believe in the team and believe in your ability and believe in your worth. 

Golladay may not be an all-timer like Calvin Johnson, but he is absolutely one of the most lethal pass-catchers in the NFL. He is still 27, and worth a whole lot more than what he is making on his rookie contract. 

It’s time he gets paid.  

He is right. He shouldn’t be punished for saying so.  

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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