On Wednesday, the Detroit Lions finally made their big free-agency move, signing former Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate to a five-year deal. While most applauded the move for finally addressing the Lions' desperate need for a threat opposite Calvin Johnson, others questioned the price tag that came along with Tate. Most notoriously around these parts was Walter Football's D grade of the move:
Tate has never even had a 900-yard season. I've seen bogus analysis out there about how Tate's stats were limited because of Seattle's run-heavy attack. That's a load of crap. If Tate happened to be a starting-caliber wideout, he would have produced more consistently.
Should Lions fans be concerned? Did they just overpay for a glorified No. 2 receiver that was boosted by a mobile quarterback and a Super Bowl ring? Short answer: absolutely not.
|Year||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Punt Return Average|
|2011||35||382||3||0 (1 attempt)|
(stats via ESPN)
Those may seem like pedestrian stats for someone who just got paid over $6 million a year, but there are a few things we need to establish to put those numbers in context. First, the Seahawks do not throw the ball very often. Walter Football may view that excuse as "crap," but the difference between the Seahawks offense and the Lions offense is staggering. In fact, last year Seattle threw the ball the second-fewest times of any NFL team, while the Lions threw the ball the fifth-most.
Tate was the target of just over 23 percent of the Seahawks' passes in 2013 and caught over 65 percent of the balls thrown his way. So if we were to extrapolate Tate's numbers from 2013 and put him on a team that throws the ball very often (New Orleans Saints and Lions were No. 4 and 5 in the league in passing attempts), they would look something like this (assuming 634 passing attempts, the Lions' total from 2013): 96 receptions, 1,358 yards, 7.5 TDs. That looks an awful lot better.
Of course, the Seahawks didn't have a Calvin Johnson on the other side of the field, so Tate likely won't be seeing 23 percent of the Lions' passes thrown his way (for some context, Kris Durham saw 13.6 percent of targets last season). Regardless, I'd expect his overall targets to increase significantly due to being in a pass-heavy offense.
Tate's statistics may have also been hindered by being the No. 1 receiver in Seattle. He was often lined up against the defense's top cornerback. In 2013 alone, he had to face some very athletic cornerbacks, including Patrick Peterson (twice), Janoris Jenkins and Darrelle Revis. In fairness, Tate did struggle against those players:
Actually, those stats don't seem that bad. Nevertheless, Tate likely won't be seeing those guys next season -- or any No. 1 cornerback -- and he won't have to deal with the great defenses of the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals twice a year anymore. Having Megatron on the other side of the field will open up a lot of space for Tate and put him up against lesser competition. With Tate already averaging a whopping 7.9 yards after the catch, having some of the best hands in the league and being among the league leaders in broken tackles, there's no reason to temper expectations in 2014.