Four years ago, the Detroit Lions signed Seattle Seahawks receiver Nate Burleson to help draw coverage away from superstar Calvin Johnson. Fast forward to today and the Lions make another free-agent splash on the same note.
Detroit landed a deal with Golden Tate, another former No. 81 Seahawks possession receiver. After inking a 5-year $31 million deal, this offense added a much-needed weapon.
The Lions were in desperate need to add a playmaking target to complement Megatron. The 25-year-old is well in his prime, and some important numbers to back up his new contract.
Over the past few seasons, Detroit has ranked at the top in dropped passes. According to Pete Damilatis from Pro Football Focus, Tate has been the most sure-handed receiver over the past three years.
In the past 3 seasons, Golden Tate has forced 50 missed tackles on his receptions. That's 9 more than any other WR. #Lions— Pete Damilatis (@PFF_Pete) March 12, 2014
Also according to ESPN, Tate gained 17.6 percent of yards after contact last season, which was the highest among receivers.
Golden Tate gained 17.6% of his yards after contact last season - highest among wide receivers— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 12, 2014
An offense with much needed fixing, this is a step in the right direction for Detroit. This team has been searching for an eraser across from Calvin Johnson for awhile. On paper, Tate is possibly the best counterpart for Megatron thus far—a sure-handed Super Bowl champion in his prime with an infectious competitive pedigree.
While Tate's a fitting addition, plenty more repairs are still in store for Detroit. So what's next for the Lions?
1. More Help Coming
Bleacher Report featured columnist Zach Kruse called Golden Tate the "final piece of (Detroit's) puzzle". On the contrary, this team still has numerous holes on its roster, especially offensively.
While Tate is a sure upgrade over Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, recovering Ryan Broyles and recently released Nate Burleson, this receiving core could still use one more outside target. Tate is best served as an underneath option lined up in the slot. Right now as the Lions' No. 2, he would likely line up opposite of Johnson.
Whether it's via free agency or the upcoming draft, Detroit still needs more help.
The Sammy Watkins dream is becoming more distant after the Tate acquisition. The Lions would've needed to trade up to draft him, but with Tate signed the need and desire for Watkins is unnecessary. Detroit can find quality help without moving up to land the Clemson receiver.
First-round receivers Mike Evans and Marqise Lee should be available by the tenth pick. Tight end is still a big position of need.
2. One Less Excuse for Stafford
Matthew Stafford has never been known to make his receivers better. Since he was a rookie, the front office has spoon-fed their franchise quarterback with plenty of receiving talent in high draft picks, trades and big signings.
One can argue Stafford dealt with a difficult bunch as the Lions have ranked first in drops over the past few years. And the lone remaining high-priced target outside of Calvin Johnson still with Detroit is Ryan Broyles, who's just coming off of another ACL tear.
However you see it, the excuses for Stafford are dwindling slowly and surely.
While he may not make his teammates better, Johnson certainly does. Any Lions receiver who can get open and lines up alongside Megatron is bound to see plenty of action. In this pass-happy offense, Golden Tate's sticky hands should have his number called plenty in Detroit.
An upgraded offensive coaching stable at head coach and coordinator, plus a dangerous target in Tate, increases Stafford's value tremendously. But it's up to him to show it. Being injury prone isn't a discussion anymore (knock on wood), and Stafford is no longer a "young quarterback" trying to find his way. It's time for the franchise leader to take this team over the top.
3. Boost the Defense
Last year, the Lions had more stability and better production on defense. That side of the ball is far from polished, however, and is still in help of improvement.
Detroit hired former Ravens defensive backs coach Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator. With his best wisdom in the secondary, he won't be able to do much with the current players in that backfield. After a terrible year from Chris Houston, plus slow growth from Bill Bentley and Darius Slay, spells the need of help.
The Lions just signed former Ravens safety James Ihedigbo to pair up with Glover Quin. Top-tier free-agent safeties Donte Whitner and T.J. Ward were hopeful options for Detroit but found better money or opportunity on different teams.
Another floating enigma is what the front office plans to do with captain Ndamukong Suh. Running back Joique Bell says the Lions haven't started contract negotiations with their star-studded defensive tackle yet. After hopes of getting a long-term deal done by Tuesday, they couldn't after Suh fired his agent back in February.
Suh's $22.4 million cap is the second-largest in the NFL. The Lions want to land a long-term deal at a more convenient price. Unless a trade happens before the draft, this will likely be a long process to keep track of.
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