Lions Must Seize "Golden" Opportunity
By Scott McMahon
It’s no secret by now that the Lions are in desperate need of wide receiver help. Calvin Johnson is a monster, but he can’t catch every pass that Matthew Stafford throws. So you could imagine my excitement when Adam Schefter reported Tuesday night that Golden Tate—fresh off a Super Bowl victory in February—would be flying to Detroit to visit with the Lions.
Personally, I don’t much care for Golden Tate’s attitude. I think he’s unnecessarily flashy, I think he’s cocky, and I think he could stand to be knocked down a few pegs by his pal Richard Sherman in a one-on-one matchup.
However, the guy is a decent football player. I don’t think he’s quite #1 material—although he was Russell Wilson’s top target in Seattle—but lined up opposite a guy like Megatron, and Tate could put together a few solid seasons. Tate’s stat line of 64 catches, 898 yards, and five touchdowns came in a system that emphasized a run-heavy offense aimed on physically wearing down opposing defenses. In a system that stresses the pass—like what you’ll see with Joe Lombardi’s offense in Detroit—there’s no doubt in my mind that Tate’s numbers would flourish.
Consider this: Kris Durham ranked second among Lions wide receivers in receiving yards in 2013 with 490. In all five seasons that Lombardi served as the Saints’ quarterbacks coach, at least three tight ends or wide receivers eclipsed that mark. Securing a proven second receiver, and adding in an offense that won’t be shy about throwing the ball, and would be a key move for the Lions.
Also consider the fact that Tate can play both slot and outside receiver. Line him up next to Megatron and you create matchup problems elsewhere. Put him on the opposite side and it stretches the field for an underneath pass to a running back that Lombardi loved to run in New Orleans.
But the biggest reason why the Lions need to sign Golden Tate: the draft.
I’m sick and tired of seeing mock drafts where the Lions select one of the top wide receivers at tenth overall. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and even Jordan Matthews would be good additions, but not when the secondary is as depleted as the Lions’. If the season started today, Chris Houston and Darius Slay would start at corner, with Glover Quin and Don Carey at the safety positions. With Houston and Slay’s combined performance from 2013, and an inexperienced Carey at the free safety position, the secondary would be in far worse shape than the receiving corps.
Don’t believe me? According to Advanced NFL Stats, Houston ranked 52nd out of 93 corners in Positive Win Probability Added (+WPA), which measures a defensive player’s impact on the outcome of a game in the positive plays in which he is involved. Houston’s score of 0.66 ranked far below Chicago’s Tim Jennings, who led the league at 1.82. Slay was no better, and in fact ranked 90th out of 93 in +WPA at 0.27. In short, the two starting corners at the moment did not much improve the Lions’ chances to win games.
Drafting a cornerback with the tenth pick puts a great player into a Lions uniform at a low cost. The anticipated price tags of free agent corners like Charles Tillman and potentially Darrelle Revis would eat up much of the $11 million that the Lions have available for free agents. Tate won’t come cheaply, but I also think he has far more potential at a better cost than any free agent corner that the Lions could bring in.
In addition to their first round draft choice going to a cornerback, it would be wise of the Lions to again bring in a veteran like Rashean Mathis to provide some veteran guidance and leadership. The Lions signed Mathis for cheap, and it worked out pretty well for the team in 2013, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do it again with someone like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or even Mathis again.
The Lions have a golden opportunity (pun intended?—you make the call) to bring in a talented wide receiver and pair him up with the best in the NFL. It’s an opportunity that should provide much more clarity when it comes to the draft this May, as well as a chance to round out an already-strong offense in the early stages of free agency.
We’ll see how it plays out, but I’ll be slightly upset if Tate doesn’t end up in a Lions uniform for 2014.