It's time for the Detroit Lions to step up and pay Kenny Golladay

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The ball was in the air, coming Kenny Golladay’s way. So was Golladay. It seemed like the Detroit Lions’ No. 1 receiver knew contact was inevitable but it didn’t matter.

Golladay, in his fourth season with the team, seemed to be almost parallel to the ground when he caught the ball with his hands behind his head. The contact came and the ball looked like it might pop out for a second.

Golladay wasn’t allowing that. He pulled it back in, making the catch instead.

“I was just worried about the ball in the air,” Golladay said. “Once I caught it, I pretty much got hit at the same time. Pretty much a bang-bang play.”

Back in August, it was an afterthought plays like this from Golladay would be commonplace with the Lions for years to come. A contract extension seemed imminent. Golladay wanted it to happen. So, too, it seemed, did the Lions.

It’s now the end of October. Golladay, who could be franchise-tagged for the 2021 season, is still without a long-term extension. That’s something Detroit needs to rectify with the 26-year-old receiver.

Lions coach Matt Patricia sidestepped questions about Golladay's contract this week while praising Golladay as a "phenomenal player" who makes "unbelievable plays." That continued Sunday as Golladay continued to prove, week-in and week-out, that he’s one of the best receivers in the NFL.

Golladay laughed when he was asked after the game if he made more money Sunday. He didn’t answer the question. He didn’t have to. Every week he plays at this high level, his price should go up. He also didn’t want to get into an Instagram post he wrote after last Sunday’s win against Jacksonville, where he wrote: “this s--- gone cost you! Don’t let that go over y’all head…” Instead, he just smiled.

“I’m going to let you guys, you know, figure out what it means,” Golladay said. “I’m just going to focus on this huge win we just got. Man, it was a crazy game.”

It was a game the Lions likely would not have won without Golladay on the field. He’s now had two straight 100-yard games, including six catches for 114 yards in a 23-22 win against the Atlanta Falcons. His connection with Matthew Stafford has grown to the point where the last player Stafford seemed that confident throwing to while covered was Calvin Johnson.

Stafford said he doesn’t compare his connection with Golladay to what he had with Johnson because he believes in all of his receivers. But it’s clear he’s developed a high level of rapport with his No. 1.

“He’s making plays right now,” Stafford said. “He’s doing a great job of when the ball is in the air, he’s ending up the majority of them and that’s huge for me. That’s huge for our team. It just brings juice to everybody.”

Golladay might be one of the Top 3 contested-catch receivers in the league. All six of his catches Sunday came with defenders barreling down on him or right on his body. Fifty-fifty balls aren’t 50-50 with Golladay. Even his teammates know it.

Entering Sunday, in just three games, Next Gen Stats had Golladay with 10 catches for 167 yards in tight or neutral windows this season. In his four seasons, he’s caught 121 passes for 1,999 yards and 15 touchdowns in those designations before Sunday.

“When the ball’s in the air, it’s not 50-50 with Kenny,” tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “It’s almost 100 percent to him.”

Golladay’s 50-50 dominance showed up at the end of the game, too, when the Lions needed him the most. Stafford was holding on to the ball and he and Golladay’s four-year-long connection gave Stafford the confidence his receiver would know where he would be throwing the ball over the deep linebacker and in front of the deep safety.

Stafford said he threw the ball a lot earlier than he wanted to but he knew “Kenny was feeling the same thing I was feeling.” The 29-yard catch set up the game-tying touchdown from Stafford to Hockenson.

“Any time the ball in the air, I want it to be mine,” Golladay said. “It has to be mine. You know. I just got to make that play. I’m forever grateful when 'Staff' always gives me the opportunity to make the play.”

It’s a connection the Lions should want to keep around for a while. There’s little reason not to.