Detroit Lions' Kenny Golladay poised to land new contract: Here's what it could look like

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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The coronavirus pandemic has slowed the rush of mega contract extensions NFL teams typically give their stars every year, but it hasn’t stopped the trend— as Patrick Mahomes and Myles Garrett can attest — and Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay is poised to cash in soon.

Golladay, who’s scheduled to be a free agent after the season, has indicated to friends he expects to sign a long-term deal with the Lions this summer, and salary cap expert Joel Corry said Golladay’s next contract could make him one of the five highest-paid receivers in the NFL. 

“I was thinking that Mike Evans would be the floor,” Corry said Tuesday. “That was done in early 2018. And I would imagine he’s looking at that Amari Cooper deal going, ‘Hey, we need to be in that range.’ But with a better structure.”

Detroit Lions' Kenny Golladay dives in for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Evans, who has topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of his six NFL seasons, signed a five-year, $82.5 million extension in March 2018 that made him the second highest-paid receiver, behind only Antonio Brown.

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Brown is out of football, and despite a surge of new contracts going to receivers the last two years, Evans still ranks as the seventh highest-paid player at the position on an average annual salary basis.

Julio Jones (three years, $66 million), Cooper (five years, $100 million), Michael Thomas (five years, $96.3 million) and Tyreek Hill (three years, $54 million) all signed extensions in the past 12 months, and A.J. Green will play this fall on the one-year franchise tag of $18.2 million.

Odell Beckham, who signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the New York Giants in 2018, also ranks ahead of Evans.

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Cooper’s deal pays $20 million per season, with $40 million guaranteed at signing, but the deal is structured so that the Dallas Cowboys can get out of it after just two seasons.

Golladay, who turns 27 in November, led the NFL with 12 receiving touchdowns last season and made his first Pro Bowl.

“I expect him to come in the top five,” said Corry, who hosts the “Inside the Cap” podcast.

While the pandemic has turned professional sports on its proverbial head and left the NFL searching for ways to safely play a full season this fall, Corry said this remains a good time for top-tier players to get new deals.

Detroit Lions WR Kenny Golladay runs after a catch during a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Aug. 24, 2018 in Tampa, Fla.

Mahomes, the face of the NFL after leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl last season, signed the largest contract in NFL history earlier this month, a 10-year deal that could top $500 million.

Garrett, a Pro Bowl defensive end for the Cleveland Browns, got a five-year, $125 million extension that makes him the highest paid defensive player in football, on an average annual basis.

Golladay, a third-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2017, changed agents last year with designs on landing a long-term deal with the Lions. He’s scheduled to make $2.133 million this fall. 

“The good-to-great players are going to get paid no matter what environment, cause ultimately you’re going to sign your core players,” Corry said. “They’re going to get paid in free agency (if they reach it), but given the uncertainty and just in case things don’t go the way I’m anticipating (with the salary cap), you’d rather be locked in. Cause we know there’s not going to be a huge jump in the cap, so there’s no benefit to waiting from that standpoint.”

With billions of dollars in lost revenue expected this season due to the pandemic, the NFL and NFL Players Association are in the process of negotiating how that money will impact the salary cap going forward.

Detroit Lions receiver Kenny Golladay makes a catch against Dallas Cowboys defensive back Darian Thompson during the second half Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 at Ford Field.

NFL Players Association president DeMaurice Smith said last week some estimates put lost revenue at $70 million per club, which — if applied to the cap in 2021 — would shrink it dramatically from its current $198.2 million.

It’s more likely, however, that those losses will be spread over multiple years, leaving teams to operate in a flat salary cap environment until new media rights deals send the cap soaring again.

Corry said Golladay’s final contract could end up in the $18 million-per-season range, which would slot him behind Jones, Cooper and Thomas among highest-paid receivers. The Lions gave defensive end Trey Flowers a five-year, $90 million deal in free agency last spring, with $50 million in practical guarantees, that could provide the structure for that type of deal.

As for any financial crunch the Lions could be facing from pandemic-related losses, Corry said that’s no excuse for the team to scrimp on a deal.

“Let’s put it this way, (giving Golladay a huge contract) will be less cumbersome than when they did Calvin Johnson’s deal on a flat cap (in 2012) and the cap went from $123.75 to $120.6 that year and they had a high-priced Ndamukong Suh on a rookie contract and a Matthew Stafford as well,” he said. “This situation isn’t that one. There are ways to work around that.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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