Golden Tate Signing Gives Lions Offense the Final Piece of the Puzzle

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IMarch 12, 2014

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In obvious need of a No. 2 receiver to team with Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions successfully courted arguably the best available option in free agency. 

According to Josina Anderson of ESPN, former Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate agreed to a five-year deal worth $31 million, with $13.25 million guaranteed, after spending most of Wednesday at the Lions facility:

A sticky-hands receiver with yards-after-the-catch ability, Tate might just represent the final piece of the puzzle for the Lions offense. At the very least, he should finally put an end to Detroit's annual search for a complement to Johnson, one of this generation's most dominant receivers, but one who has rarely played with a legitimate second option.

Tate, 25, was considered the top free-agent receiver by ESPN's Bill Polian

The former second-round pick in 2010 caught a career-high 64 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns last season for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Tate also added eight catches for 61 yards in three postseason games. 

While he put up respectable numbers as part of a run-heavy offense in Seattle, Tate now arrives in a system tailored to throwing the football.

The pass-happy Lions have finished in the top five of passing attempts and yards in every season since 2011. Over that span, quarterback Matthew Stafford has averaged almost 675 attempts and 4,885 passing yards. While the Lions replaced head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan with Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi, respectively, Detroit is expected to remain a pass-heavy offense in 2014 and beyond. 

Tate could thrive in such a system. 

Golden Tate vs. Lions No. 2 WRs in 2013
Golden Tate6489852.015063
Nate Burleson3946111.562234
Kris Durham3849020.8613010
*Yards per route run Source: Pro Football Focus

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Tate has caught 145 of the 151 catchable passes thrown his way since 2011, the highest catch rate of any receiver. He had just three drops in an increased role in 2013, catching 64 of 67. 

In comparison, the Lions dropped an NFL-high 58 passes from Stafford in 2013. Kris Durham, who spent a large chunk of last season as Detroit's No. 2 receiver, dropped 10 passes and caught less than 50 percent of his targeted passes. 

But Tate doesn't just bring elite hands to Detroit. 

Tate is at his best after the catch.
Tate is at his best after the catch.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

He was one of just 21 receivers to average at least 2.0 receiving yards per route run last season, a list that included Johnson and most of the NFL's top receivers. The stat is a better indicator of overall production than simply catches and yards, as the volume aspect is taken out of the equation.

A big reason why Tate found himself among the top receivers was his ability to gain yards after the catch. 

In 2013, Tate recorded 506 of his 898 yards after the catch, with an average per catch of 7.9 (second among receivers). He forced 21 missed tackles (most among receivers in 2013), and his 50 tackles eluded over the last three years leads all receivers. 

Few receivers have Tate's unique combination of reliable hands and game-breaking skill after the catch, which gives him sky-high potential in an offense that should bump up his usage considerably. 

Of course, Tate has also never played with a receiver as dominant as Johnson. A No. 1 receiver for long stretches in Seattle, Tate will eventually reap the benefits of all the double-coverages and slanted defenses sent Johnson's way most Sundays. In a one-on-one situation, Stafford and the Lions offense should feel good about going to Tate over and over. 

For the first time since Johnson arrived in Detroit in 2007, the Lions will have an offense with all the necessary parts. 

Stafford is being rebooted by Caldwell and Lombardi after a disappointing two-year regression. If he reverts to his 2011 form, the Lions have a legitimate franchise quarterback pulling the trigger.

At running back, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell form one of the more productive and underrated combinations in all of football. Bush ran for over 1,000 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry in 2013, while Bell tacked on 650 yards and eight scores (second on the team to only Johnson). Both backs had over 50 catches and 500 yards receiving. 

The Lions may lose former first-round tight end Brandon Pettigrew in free agency. But behind him, Joseph Fauria presents the Detroit offense with star qualities, as he caught seven touchdowns in a limited role last season. He could be looking at a breakout season in 2013. 

The Lions also made great strides on the offensive line last season, giving up a sack on just 3.5 percent of Stafford's dropbacks and paving the way for a running game that averaged 4.0 yards per carry. 

With a high-upside No. 2 like Tate now flanking Johnson, who caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns despite a cranky knee in 2013, all the pieces appear to be in place. 

The Lions have long grappled with the receiver position behind Johnson, using the draft and free agency seemingly every season to attempt to find a suitable option. Nate Burleson, who was cut by the team last month, represented the best of those attempts. 

The lack of a true No. 2 has many times hurt the Lions, as Stafford developed a counterproductive tendency to force the football to Johnson. In an offense as pass-heavy as Detroit's, Stafford needs to be able to trust a receiver other than Johnson. 

In Tate, the Lions may have finally found the elusive final puzzle piece. 


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