Letting Kenny Golladay go among best decisions in Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes’ tenure

Detroit Free Press

It was one of the first decisions Brad Holmes made as Detroit Lions general manager, and two years later, it looks like one of the best.

Holmes decided not to use the franchise tag on wide receiver Kenny Golladay in March of 2021, two months into his tenure as Lions GM.

Golladay hit free agency a few weeks later, where he signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the New York Giants – the only team to offer him near that kind of money – and will face his old team for the first time Sunday as one of the most overpaid players in the NFL.

Golladay has 39 catches for 543 yards and no touchdowns with the Giants. He has missed nine of 26 games with knee and hamstring injuries, and is no guarantee to be active Sunday when the Lions (3-6) visit MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

“I haven’t followed too much of Kenny’s situation, I just know from his time here, loved him as a player, loved being in meetings with him, practice field, game day,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said this week, a Lions assistant since 2019 and one of the few people remaining in the organization who worked closely with Golladay in Detroit. “He was always a good, productive player for us when he was here. But I can’t speak onto what’s going on in New York.”

In New York, Golladay has been a bust.

He has two catches for 22 yards this season for the Giants (7-2), and played for the first time in more than a month in last week’s win over the Houston Texans.

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Booed on the Giants’ second offensive series, when he could not catch a pass thrown just out of his grasp, Golladay dropped his second target of the game in the second quarter and was promptly benched for Isaiah Hodgins, who the Giants claimed off waivers earlier this month.

Asked where Golladay fits in the plans, Giants coach Brian Daboll, via the New York Post, said, “I have conversations with our guys all the time. I’ll keep those private. Again, all I expect these guys to do is come in on Wednesday, learn from the tape, go out to practice, have a good week at practice, and then by the end of the week, we’ll decide where everybody fits.”

As disappointing as Golladay has been in New York, the decision to move on was a big win for the Lions.

Holmes said in 2021 he mulled all options with Golladay and decided it was too risky to try and tag and trade the receiver, and that the market did not support shelling out big money for an injury prone pass catcher who did get great separation downfield.

Golladay had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the Lions in 2018-19, with Matthew Stafford as his quarterback, and led the NFL with 11 touchdowns in 2019. But he missed 11 games in 2020 with a hamstring injury and contract talks between him and the organization grew contentious under former Lions GM Bob Quinn.

After one big game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Golladay wrote on Instagram, “This shit gone cost you! Don’t let that go over y’all head.”

“With Kenny, I’ve always stated that, very, very talented receiver but we pretty much knew that, as with pretty much every year in terms of free agency and the draft, that it’s relatively deep in both spots,” Holmes said in 2021. “There was a few different factors that went into it, but at the end of the day, it was just making the right decision for the Lions, both not only short-term but more importantly long-term. So that was a decision that we came to, but wish Kenny nothing but the best in New York and was happy to see that he got a good deal.”

The Lions used the cap savings from not re-signing Golladay (and not having a $15.98 million franchise tag on their books) to sign veteran receivers Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, and while neither amounted to much in Detroit, the Lions received a third-round compensatory pick in the 2022 draft for Golladay’s departure.

With the pick, No. 97 overall, the Lions took Illinois safety Kerby Joseph, who has started six games this season and leads the Lions with two forced fumbles and two interceptions.

In effect, he has the same amount of catches as Golladay this season.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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