Lions' Campbell interested in retaining these two, top players

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Even after agreeing to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams, the Detroit Lions still have plenty to do this offseason.

New general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell have been balancing those franchise-altering negotiations along with hiring front office and coaching staffs, familiarizing themselves with the rest of the roster and preparing for free agency and the draft. Presumably, they've been looking for a few hours to eat and sleep, as well. 

Now that moving Stafford has been checked off the to-do list, the team faces critical decisions with a pair of top contributors set to hit the open market — wide receiver Kenny Golladay and defensive end Romeo Okwara. 

Wide receiver Kenny Golladay

Golladay led the NFL in touchdown receptions in 2019, but missed much of last season with hamstring and hip injuries. Meanwhile, Okwara, a waiver claim three years ago, is coming off his best campaign. The 25-year-old edge rusher racked up 10 sacks and 61 total quarterback pressures in 2020, a rare bright spot on an otherwise dismal defense. 

Both are scheduled to be free agents come March, but, if he has his way, Campbell would love to keep both young stars. 

"Yeah, I would say, first of all, I've talked to both of them," Campbell told the Detroit News on Saturday, before the Stafford trade agreement was reached. "Brad and I are both going to sit down and we're going to call those guys together, as one, and just kind of talk through things with them. I would say, man, I'm interested. You know, first and foremost, I want guys that want to be here. I want to make sure first that's something they really want, they want to be back here and they want to be part of something special. That, to me, is step number one.

"Then step two is, well, does it fit us?," Campbell said. "Where are they at financially? Where are we at? What does it mean? What does that do to us moving forward? All those things come into play, but I would say there's not a closed door on either one of those guys."

Defensive end Romeo Okwara

For more than a year, Golladay has consistently expressed his desire to remain in Detroit. Changes at GM, coach and quarterback could obviously alter that opinion, but he sounded open to playing for Campbell in a recent NFL Network interview. 

"Actually, I'm feeling pretty good now," Golladay said when asked about the hip flexor injury that sidelined him the final nine games of the season. "I'm really excited to get back to work. Coach Campbell came with that energy, you know? I'm trying to match that same energy he came with."

Golladay said he couldn't stop laughing when he watched clips from Campbell's introductory press conference, where the coach famously said his team would bite opposing kneecaps on the way up from getting knocked down. 

"That's that energy I'm talking about," Golladay said. "He set the tone right there. I guess we're going to be biting some kneecaps off."

The Lions had high hopes for Golladay entering the 2020 season. Former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had talked about helping elevate his performance among the game's elite receivers, such as DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones. 

And in the four games Golladay played from start to finish, he was a force, going for at least 100 yards or a touchdown in each. After Campbell's initial review of Detroit's tape, he sees what Bevell saw, a player with an even higher ceiling. 

"I think Golladay can be better than he is," Campbell said. "I think we can help him be a better route runner, on top of what he already has."

But as Campbell noted, even if both sides are interested in staying together, the financials have to line up. The market rate for a receiver of Golladay's caliber has been set at around $20 million per season, while Okwara could command an average salary north of $10 million. 

Even prior to the Stafford trade, the Lions were butting up against cap estimates, which are set to decline in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduced league-wide revenue last season. Now, after taking back Jared Goff from the Rams, the Lions will have nearly $15 million added to their cap. 

As always, there are plenty of opportunities to create cap space, including restructuring Goff's deal. It remains to be seen which avenues the Lions will explore in their efforts to retain Golladay and Okwara.