The Detroit Lions, in the midst of yet another rebuild from the ground up, have decided they will not be using their franchise tag on stud wideout Kenny Golladay. Tom Pelissero had the news first with today being the final day teams can use the tag on pending free agents.
This comes as something of a surprise. The Lions are attempting to rebuild while maintaining some semblance of competitiveness, as their Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff swap indicates; if that wasn't the case, they could have simply sold Stafford to whoever was offering the most draft picks. More relevant is the fact that this Detroit roster is not exactly overflowing with talent and Golladay is far and away the best player the Lions have on offense right now. New GM Brad Holmes knows that better than I and for that reason it is not unrealistic to think Golladay could return to Detroit even without the franchise tag.
But the Lions clearly do not want to pay Golladay top-five WR money, as applying the franchise tag would require. Golladay is the second-best receiver hitting the open market behind Allen Robinson and will have plenty of suitors. He's missed 17 games in four seasons and played in only five last year, which is the biggest red flag on his profile. But he is a premier contested catch receiver who topped 1,000 yards and led the NFL in touchdowns with 11 the one year he played all 16 games back in 2019. Here are four potential destinations for the 27-year-old wideout.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are in dire need of talent at receiver and are projected to have the third-most cap space in the NFL to use this offseason. They make a lot of sense. Golladay is miles better than anyone the team could hope to acquire this offseason, much less who they currently have on the roster. Plus, Golladay was drafted by former Bill Belichick disciple Bob Quinn, so he has the Patriot Way sign-off (for whatever that's worth).
New England still has no idea who will be throwing the ball to their receivers in 2021 but having Golladay catching it will be a big boost no matter what player ends up under center. Belichick is not fond of giving big deals out in free agency, and almost never gives them out to skill position players, but without Tom Brady, the old way of doing things isn't going to get the job done.
New York Jets
Another AFC East team with a metric ton of cap space to work with, the Jets presumably want to give new head coach Robert Saleh a solid foundation to work with as he begins to rebuild a team that nearly went winless in 2020. New York's receiving corps needs a complete overhaul, with only 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder as names worth noting on the depth chart right now. Golladay would immediately become the No. 1 target.
The question is who will be throwing him the ball, but that doesn't affect how valuable Golladay would be for this team. If the Jets buy into Sam Darnold, they will want to give him as much help as possible to justify the faith they have in him, and if they draft a QB with the No. 2 overall pick this year, Golladay would help make the transition to NFL life that much easier. Regardless of the path they choose, New York needs receivers, and Golladay's gigantic catch radius makes him all the more useful for a young quarterback.
The Ravens need to find a No. 1 receiver for Lamar Jackson after their group of wideouts ranked dead last in catches and yards last season. The latest reports have suggested that Baltimore is not going to heavily pursue any top free agent receivers to accomplish that goal, but perhaps the news that Golladay is officially an unrestricted free agent will change that view. It should because Golladay would be huge for their MVP quarterback. He would bring a unique skillset to the table in Baltimore as a big-bodied deep threat who can work the middle of the field better than anyone on the roster right now and an ideal complement to speed demon Hollywood Brown.
The Ravens don't have a ton of cap space, projected to have about $18 million, but that would be enough to sign Golladay to a top-tier contract. Time is running out to capitalize on Jackson's cheap rookie deal. Golladay would be an excellent use of the resources they have now that won't be available down the line after Jackson signs a monster contract.
Indy already made their big move of the offseason by trading for Carson Wentz. Now it's time to put him in the best possible position to succeed. The Colts have some talent at receiver in young wideout Michael Pittman and Zach Pascal but could lose T.Y. Hilton to free agency and Golladay is better than all the above. GM Chris Ballard has proven himself one of the league's better manipulators of the cap and as such should have around $43 million to spend this offseason even after taking on Wentz' onerous contract. The money and the need is there.
The one potential holdup is that Ballard has earned that reputation because he does not give out big deals in free agency, and Golladay's injury history might be too much for Ballard to justify offering big money. Still, the fit is perfect and he has staked both his future and that of the franchise on Wentz' ability to become the quarterback everyone thought he was when he was given a then-record deal. Golladay would go a long way in helping make that a reality.