Dave Birkett | Detroit Free Press
The Lions have decided not to use the franchise tag on their No. 1 receiver, NFL Network reported Tuesday, effectively allowing him to sign elsewhere when free agency opens next week.
Neither Lions general manager Brad Holmes nor Golladay’s agent, Todd France, returned messages seeking comment.
Franchise tag numbers have not yet been finalized for the season, but the receiver tag would have cost the Lions about $16 million.
Golladay had been seeking a long-term contract worth north of $18 million per season, but negotiations stalled last fall after the receiver market was thrown into disarray by the coronavirus pandemic.
Receivers Julio Jones (three years, $66 million), Amari Cooper (five years, $100 million), Michael Thomas (five years, $96.3 million) and Tyreek Hill (three years, $54 million) all signed extensions worth more than last year’s franchise tag of $17.865 million.
The tag is expected to go down in 2021 because of the shrinking salary cap.
“I don’t think there’s any debate that Kenny has shown the ability to be a No. 1 receiver in this league,” Lions GM Brad Holmes said when asked about the possibility of franchising Golladay earlier this month. “And with that skill set that everybody knows that he has, we all know that he has and being at where we’re at from a roster standpoint, there’s also been no debate that Kenny’s been at the forefront of our mind in terms of making sure that we make the best possible decision for not only the Lions but for Kenny.”
Golladay expressed frustration with contract talks last fall, taking to Instagram to remind the Lions after a four-catch, 105-yard game against the Jacksonville Jaguars that, “This shit gone cost you!”
He played just two games and caught only six passes the rest of the season, straining his hip flexor in a Week 8 loss to the Indianapolis Colts that kept him out the final two months.
Despite that injury, and a hamstring injury that cost him five games as a rookie in 2017, Golladay has established himself as the Lions’ No. 1 receiver — and one of the most dominant pass catchers in the NFL — when healthy.
He led the league with 11 receiving touchdowns and averaged 18.3 yards per catch in 2019, when he was picked to his first Pro Bowl. And he was considered one of the top free agents on the market regardless of position — and one of the top three receivers along with the Chicago Bears’ Allen Robinson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin — this spring.
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Golladay indicated during the season he wanted to stay in Detroit, though he said playing with Matthew Stafford — who is set to be traded to the Los Angeles Rams later this month — was a big reason why. And he said he hoped to sign a long-term extension and avoid the franchise tag.
“Being honest, I’d rather get a deal done,” Golladay said in December. “But 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.”
With Golladay free to sign elsewhere beginning next week, the Lions have major work to do on their receiving corps. Four of their other top five receivers from last season — Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Mohamed Sanu and Jamal Agnew — will be unrestricted free agents, and only Quintez Cephus returns from last season.
The Lions officially signed Tyrell Williams to a one-year contract last week, but remain in the market for help at the position in free agency and the draft, where they have the No. 7 pick. LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and the Alabama duo of Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith are the top receiver prospects.
The Lions, who likely will be in line for a third-round compensatory pick in 2022 should Golladay sign elsewhere, last used the franchise tag on Ziggy Ansah in 2018, when he was coming off a 12-sack season. Ansah played that year on the tag, but appeared in only seven games because of shoulder injuries and had four sacks.
The Lions have used the tag three other times in the past 15 seasons, on defensive end Cliff Avril in 2012, defensive tackle Cory Redding in 2007 and offensive tackle Jeff Backus in 2006. Avril played out the season on the tag, then cashed in big the next spring with the Seattle Seahawks, with whom he won a Super Bowl. Redding and Backus signed multiyear contracts to stay in Detroit, with Backus’ deal coming after the Lions initially agreed to not tag him a second time.