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What's Next for the Detroit Lions After Signing Golden Tate?

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What's Next for the Detroit Lions After Signing Golden Tate?
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The Detroit Lions kept the fans waiting a bit at the start of the NFL free-agency period, but they rewarded that patience by signing wide receiver Golden Tate.

ESPN's Josina Anderson broke the good news almost exactly 24 hours after the opening of the free-agent signing period:

Adding a legit, proven wideout is something the fan base coveted. It's something the Lions desperately needed to address, after struggling through a year with the grossly inadequate Kris Durham as the primary second banana to Calvin Johnson.

Tate sports a Super Bowl title on his resume from Seattle, something that no other current Lion can claim. He's only 25 and comes off a season where he led the world champs in receptions and yards.

To get an idea of just how much of an upgrade Tate is as the Lions' No. 2 receiver, compare him to what Kris Durham and Nate Burleson did in Detroit the last two seasons:

Golden Tate vs. Kris Durham and Nate Burleson 2012-13
Catches Yards Catch Rate Yards After Catch
Tate 127 1,785 69% 839
Durham 46 615 43% 152
Burleson 66 701 71% 305

Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

Durham, Burleson and Titus Young, who pulled down 33 receptions for 383 yards in 2012 before his behavioral issues took an unfortunate turn, all combined as the secondary target don't measure up to what Tate did. 

Factor in that the Lions threw the ball over 500 times more than Seattle in those two seasons, and it's easy to see how massive of an upgrade Tate represents. 

In signing Tate, the Lions likely used up a decent portion of their available salary cap room for 2014.

The finer details of the contract are not yet available, but with an average salary of $6.2 million and $13.25 million guaranteed, the cap hit figures to be at least $3 million in 2014. 

Earlier in the day, the Lions reached an extension with restricted free agent Joique Bell. His new deal will cost the Lions $2.187 million against the cap, according to Spotrac.

Detroit also signed a minor deal with depth wide receiver Kevin Ogletree:

According to Over the Cap, that leaves the Lions with a little over $6.75 million in cap room for 2014.  

One of the next orders of business is to sign star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a contract extension. But, as reported by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Joique Bell indicated that might not come soon enough to help clear cap room for free agents:

I talked to Suh, and he said, actually, they’re not in — he said they really haven’t been negotiating now.

Without the millions a new Suh deal would provide, it's time to move on from some of the more high-profile targets. Forget about Hakeem Nicks and Jared Allen.

There is still room to sign some useful, less-prominent players.

Two such players are already scheduled for visits, per Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com:

Costa, most recently with Dallas, would be in the mix as a reserve interior lineman. He's rated the 10th-best available center by Rotoworld

Hynoski (pictured) ranks fourth on Rotoworld's fullback list. The former New York Giant played just 29 snaps in 2013, though he did accrue a nice 8.0 rating in 2012 from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) despite touching the ball just 16 times. 

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

New head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi both come from offenses that used fullbacks in Baltimore and New Orleans, respectively. The closest thing the Lions have to a fullback is Montell Owens, who missed all but a handful of plays with knee injuries (yes, plural) in 2013. 

Look for Hynoski to join the team. If he somehow escapes the den, Detroit does still need a fullback. Jed Collins, who played under Lombardi in New Orleans, is also a free agent and should be had on the cheap. 

Then there is the hole at safety. While they flew off the shelf in the first day of free agency, there are still a few safeties that could interest Detroit:

  • Chris Clemons
  • Thomas DeCoud
  • James Ihedigbo
  • Kendrick Lewis

Clemons is the best available option. The former Dolphin is coming off his best season, with 93 tackles and eight pass breakups. 

Detroit has already shown interest in Clemons:

But given the lucrative contracts the other starting-caliber safeties got on the first day of free agency, Clemons' asking price might prove too steep. As noted by Justin Rogers of MLive:

In addition to Byrd, Donte Whitner, Malcolm Jenkins, Mike Mitchell, Antoine Bethea and T.J. Ward each agreed to long-term contracts, collectively averaging nearly $6 million per season.

DeCoud and Ihedigbo should be more affordable if the Lions opt to go a little further down the pecking order.

A former Atlanta Falcon, DeCoud has started 78 games over the last five years and is just one season removed from picking off six passes (h/t Pro Football Reference).

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

Ihedigbo started all 16 games in Baltimore under new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin last season, and he responded with his best season. I recently covered his potential as a Lion here

Lewis fits under the "reclamation project" header. The former Kansas City Chief was once a solid starter, but injuries have slowed him. Adam Teicher of ESPN offered a nice report of Lewis' breakdown. 

If he should somehow sign in Detroit, Lewis would likely start behind both reserves, Don Carey and Isa Abdul Quddus, on the safety depth chart. Still, he's just 26 and could rediscover his competent old self if healthy and motivated by a one-year deal. 

As for how the Tate signing impacts the upcoming draft, the dire need to get a wide receiver is now mitigated. It's still a big need, but Tate's versatility really becomes a major asset here. 

The Lions can keep their options open for either a downfield threat or a primary slot receiver, as Tate has proven he can adeptly handle either role. This eases the pressure to force a fit at No. 10 overall.

In addition, the freakish depth at the wideout spot gives the Lions even more options. As Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller notes:

The deepest wide receiver class I've ever seen comes into the NFL this year. Headlined by Sammy Watkins, this crew has a crazy 11 players ranked with at least a second-round grade. You won't see that happen very often. 

While Mike Evans has to remain an option in the first round, the Tate signing allows the Lions to more strongly consider other options. With talents like Jarvis Landry, Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews all potentially available for Detroit in the second round, Detroit might very well opt to fill another role in the first.

Adding Ogletree likely precludes the Lions from taking a wide receiver later in the draft. Between him, Jeremy Ross and last year's sixth-rounder Corey Fuller, the final reserve/developmental spots are already capably filled. 

That increases the likelihood of drafting a kicker, another hole the Lions must fill. It also makes it that much easier for general manager Martin Mayhew to stick to his mantra of "best player available" with each pick. 

 

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