When the Seattle Seahawks moved on from Pro Bowl wide receiver Sidney Rice, pundits from around the league believed contract talks between the Seahawks and free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate would intensify.
Despite having $16,042,553 in salary-cap space, talks between the two sides haven’t intensified. In an interview with Sirius XM NFL Radio, the 25-year-old pass-catcher told Alex Marvez and Bill Polian that things have been pretty chill, and he hasn’t heard too much.
This is surprising based on the fact general manager John Schneider mentioned Tate as one of Seattle’s highest priorities at the combine, via Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk. Furthermore, the Seahawks' lack of interest is unexpected when you look at the season the fourth-year wideout had in 2013.
Aside from helping Seattle win its first Vince Lombardi Trophy, he led the team in receptions (64), receiving yards (898) and receiving touchdowns (five). With less than a week until free agency begins, the Seahawks must not take Tate for granted. They need to ramp up negotiations and sign the sure-handed wideout to a multiyear extension.
Yet, there’s one question that looms large: What is Tate's worth on the open market? That’s a tough one when you solely look at the numbers. Sure, he hasn’t ever logged a 1,000-yard receiving season or scored more than seven touchdowns, but that’s OK. Why? Because his value runs deeper than the surface-level statistics that show up in a box score.
In addition to being a deep threat, a topnotch route-runner and an exceptional run-blocker, Tate has made a name for himself as one of the league’s best punt returners. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the second-round pick out of Notre Dame finished the 2013 season with a plus-11.9 punt-return grade.
That was by far the highest punt-return grade in the NFL. On 55 returns (playoffs included), Tate averaged 10.9 yards a return, tallied 600 yards total and signaled for 16 fair catches. Moreover, his 71-yard return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the 11th-longest punt return of the year.
Without a doubt, his return ability helped the Seahawks garner better starting field position on offense in 2013. Per Football Outsiders, Seattle’s average starting field position was the 31.28-yard line. The only teams to record a higher average starting field position were the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.
As far as Tate’s deep-passing numbers go, quarterback Russell Wilson targeted him 20 times on throws that traveled 20 yards or more downfield. Of those 20 targets, the 202-pound speedster hauled in eight receptions for 294 yards receiving and two touchdowns. His 41.2 percent catch rate was higher than that of Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.
It’s also worth noting that Tate didn’t have a single drop on throws that traveled 20 yards or more downfield. Wilson tossed eight catchable deep passes his way, and he caught all eight of them. In comparison, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith each dropped three deep passes apiece.
Those numbers may be surprising to some, yet his sure-handed nature has always been one of his most valued assets. Since he entered the league in 2010, Tate has dropped seven measly passes. This, in turn, means he averages a dropped pass once every nine games and 1.5 drops per season.
If you are the Seahawks, do you really think you’re going to find a more efficient receiver in the draft? They may find a more explosive playmaker, but like any other player, he will have his own set of faults. And who says Seattle can’t re-sign Tate and draft a wideout? This year’s draft showcases one of the deepest wide receiver classes in recent memory.
Shoot, Tate has already said he’s willing to take a hometown discount for the betterment of the team. Clearly, he’s not going to let the Seahawks lowball him, but it’s evident he’s not looking to become one of league’s highest-paid players at his position.
Here’s what Tate told Sports Radio KJR on February 5, via Marc Sessler of NFL.com:
I probably shouldn't even say this right now, but I'm going to say it anyway just because I love Seattle. Honestly, I would rather take a little less to be happy and win ballgames than to take way more and go to a crappy city where the fans don't give a crap about the team. You win a game once a month or something like that. I'd much rather stay in the situation that I have now for a little less than to go and try to break the bank somewhere else.
Even though the NFL is a business, Tate has a point. To some players, winning is more important than making astronomical amounts of money. Yet, we don't exactly know what a hometown discount will look like. And it’s hard to know what it will look like until the market is set on March 11.
However, Riley Cooper’s deal (five-year, $22.5 million deal with $10 million guaranteed) in Philadelphia may have already set the market for Tate. Both players are coming off similar seasons, both players are in their mid-20s and both players have four years of service under their belt.
The only difference between the two is Tate’s value as a returner. His value as a returner won’t add a ton of guaranteed money to his contract, yet it will probably net him a higher base salary. Instead of earning a five-year, $22.5 million deal with $10 million guaranteed, I could easily see him earning a five-year, $25 million deal with $10 million guaranteed.
Early on in Tate’s career, there were major concerns about his game. No one was really sure if he would ever get his act together and live up to his lofty draft status. Lo and behold, he eventually lived up to his lofty draft status by becoming a student of the game and improving statistically on an annual basis.
There’s a reason PFF gave him a higher grade than the likes of Steve Smith, Wes Welker and T.Y. Hilton at the end of the 2013 season. He’s a big-time player who made big-time plays when the Seahawks needed him to the most. If Seattle wants a legitimate shot at repeating in 2014, it will need its best receiver back in uniform.