NFC East Reporter
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The contract the Giants offered receiver Kenny Golladay will go down as one of ex-GM Dave Gettleman’s greatest mistakes. It’s an albatross around the neck of the new front office. It’s a prime cause of their current salary cap mess.
But two and a half years ago, that’s not how the decision to sign him was viewed. Yes, $72 million over four years with $40 million guaranteed seemed like too much for Golladay even then. Yes, it looked like the Giants were bidding against themselves. But they needed a No. 1 receiver, and that’s what many around the NFL still believed Matthew Stafford’s favorite target at the time was.
It’s also something Golladay thinks he still is — even if nobody else does.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said on Thursday. “I never think less of myself at all. I still feel like I can do those types of things.”
The evidence, though, is working against him halfway through his second season in New York as the Giants (7-2) head into a game on Sunday at the Meadowlands against the Detroit Lions — Golladay’s old team. He’s played in only five games this season, including one in which he was given only two offensive snaps. Last Sunday, in a 24-16 win over the Texans, he dropped both of the passes thrown his direction, including one perfectly thrown ball that went right through his hands.
He was booed by the New York crowd after that play, and then immediately benched by Giants coach Brian Daboll. In his place during the second half was Isaiah Hodgins, who was claimed off waivers just 11 days earlier and was playing in just the fourth game of his three-year NFL career.
Golladay now has just two catches (on eight targets) for 22 yards this season and 39 catches for 521 yards and zero touchdowns in 19 games for the Giants over two years. Clearly, the Giants would cut him or trade him if they could, but his contract makes that impossible until this offseason, when he’ll still leave behind $14.7 million in “dead cap” money.
If he never plays another down for the team — which is certainly possible, since he’s nursing a hamstring injury while he sits at the bottom of the depth chart — they will have paid him approximately $1.03 million for every catch he made. And even if he does return to their lineup, the Giants are clearly not expecting much. As desperate as they are for receiving help, they would rather rely on Darius Slayton (19 catches, 327 yards and 2 touchdowns), whom they nearly cut this summer, 5-foot-8 rookie Wan’Dale Robinson (14-127-1) and a revolving door of castoffs and bottom-of-the-roster players like Richie James (20-191), Marcus Johnson (6-63), Hodgins (2-41) and David Sills (11-106).
That’s a major reason why quarterback Daniel Jones has averaged just 177.3 passing yards per game and has only eight touchdown passes in nine games, while running the third-worst passing offense in the league. He sure could use a 6-4, 213-pound, sure-handed receiver like the old Kenny Golladay.
Will the 29-year-old ever come close to being that player again?
“I think Kenny Golladay is a really good football player,” said Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. “He comes to work every day prepared. He goes through the process. This week’s no different.”
That’s hardly an endorsement of Golladay ever rediscovering his old form, which is a shame since his old form was pretty good. He had 65 catches for 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns back in 2019 in Detroit, which is what obviously sold the Giants on his potential. The next year, he had 20-338-2 in the five games he played before suffering a hip injury and going through a feud with the coaching staff that made it clear he wouldn’t be re-signing in Detroit.
In March, 2021, he was the clear head of a weak free-agent class at receiver that included Will Fuller, Curtis Samuel, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Corey Davis. Davis (three years, $37.5 million from the Jets) and Samuel (three years, $34.5 million from Washington) were the only other receivers to get relatively lucrative long-term deals.
“There was nobody close to what he could do in that class,” said one NFC executive. “I certainly understood why the Giants wanted him. Maybe not for that money, but there weren’t a lot of doubts about the player, even if there were some questions about his makeup and that hip.”
If the Giants shared those concerns, they didn’t show it. Golladay’s first free-agent trip was to Chicago, but he left there without a deal. The Giants then hosted him in the New York area for several days, giving him the full-court press, employing a bunch of their high-profile players to help woo Golladay, whom Jones said at the time was “a big-time playmaker in this league.”
His fall since then has been as fast as it is stunning. Even Golladay isn’t sure how everything has gone so wrong.
“I don’t know,” he said after the game on Sunday. “It’s tough. I’m going to keep pushing through, though. Just me knowing what type of player I can be and what I want to put out there on the field and what’s been going on this year, I think that’s the hard part.”
Of course, no one is sure what type of player he can be anymore. He actually got off to a good start in his Giants career, with 17 catches for 282 yards in his first four games, including his peak in a six-catch, 116-yard performance in a Week 4 win in New Orleans. At the start, it sure looked like Gettleman was right to take a big leap into that deal.
The next week in Dallas, Golladay injured his knee and missed the next three games. He never topped three catches or 53 yards the rest of the way.
Then he had offseason knee surgery. Then he pulled a hamstring in training camp this summer. Then he suffered a sprained MCL that cost him four games this season. Now his hamstring is an issue again, keeping him limited in practice and making him questionable for the Giants game on Sunday.
Clearly that has all taken its toll on his body and his mind. But his teammates don’t believe that means the end of his season or his career.
“It’s New York. It’s a tough place, obviously with the boos and people saying and writing whatever,” said Giants running back Saquon Barkley. “But I feel like at the end of the day, especially coming off an MCL, it’s hard to just come back and boom, go right to the level you want to be. You have that in your mind, but sometimes you come back and have to get adjusted, get back into the flow of things.”
That’s true, but for Golladay, it’s now been three years of adjustments since that 2019 season in Detroit — a season he said “was probably my better year. I got a lot of opportunities there.”
The Giants desperately wanted to give him those opportunities. Even after he sprained his knee earlier this season they were so confident of getting something out of him that they felt comfortable trading troublesome, oft-injured, unquestionably gifted 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney to the Chiefs. They thought Golladay’s return would provide at least some kind of boost to their weak receiving corps, that he’d give them some production.
They didn’t expect he’d give them nothing at all.
“I don’t know,” said Giants coach Brian Daboll. “I just think we take it week by week, go out there in practice and see how it goes at the end of the week.”
Unfortunately, for Golladay and the Giants, it has never really gone well.
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