Last week, the Detroit Lions signed wide receiver Golden Tate, who spent the first four years of his career with the Seattle Seahawks. To get a better idea of what kind of player he is, I sent five questions to Danny Kelly from Field Gulls, SB Nation's Seahawks blog. You can check out his answers below.
1. It's no secret that the Seahawks don't pass the ball nearly as much as the Lions, and we've heard quite a bit that Tate should get to move around more in Detroit's offense. What kind of role did he have in the Seattle offense?
Tate's primary role was as the X-receiver, i.e., the guy that lines up outside on the line of scrimmage and is asked to win one-on-one. Tate was very strong on go-routes up the sideline, which was a big part of Seattle's passing offense. The Seahawks' main goal on offense is to avoid turnovers, but they're also obsessed with getting explosive passing plays. Because of this, the sideline go-route pass was a staple -- if it's caught, it's a big gain, but if it's missed, the highest probability is that it'd go out of bounds rather than being picked off. Tate has an uncanny ability to get a quick release, hold the sideline, then get separation at the last second with subtle push-offs or leverage techniques to high-point the football.
That said, he was also used on end-arounds and screens quite frequently, and he has an elite ability to pick up yards after the catch (I believe he led the NFL in forced missed tackles per catch in both 2012 and 2013). He's a running back that plays receiver, so get him the ball in space and he'll wow you. This is probably the biggest reason I will miss Tate -- he always has the ability to turn what looks like a short gain into a big gain because he is so slippery and physical as a runner after the catch.
2. Tate has done quite well in avoiding drops over the years. What kind of catch radius does he have, and how reliable was he with the Seahawks when the ball was thrown into traffic?
For a 5'10 guy with relatively short arms, Tate's catch radius is ridiculous. The reason he's been able to overcome his height disadvantage is that he has excellent body control -- I called him "The Gyroscope" when he was here in Seattle, and you'll soon find out why. He is able to time his jump at the sideline, go up, high-point the football while spinning, come down and stay inbounds all in one motion. I've never really seen anyone else pinball through tackles and stay on his feet more than Tate either -- it's honestly kind of weird.
He's not a perfect receiver, of course -- he's had a few concentration drops on quick slants and things of that nature, and his route-running precision has been called into question over the years -- but he has strong hands and tends to make tough catches in traffic. He's a very tough player. Needless to say, after I've heaped this praise on him, I think Detroit got a very good player whose best football is still in front of him. I am excited to see what he can do in a high-volume passing offense. I think the price you guys paid him is fair.
3. The Lions don't necessarily have a need for a new punt returner with the emergence of Jeremy Ross, but how did Tate perform on special teams as a member of the Seahawks?
Tate is an exciting punt returner because of the reasons I've laid out above. He runs tough, like a running back, but his weirdly inhuman ability to pinball off of tackles, spin move through traffic and emerge unscathed, and somehow keep his feet moving even when he's turned around, make him dangerous. I'm not sure if you guys plan on using him in that role -- he did have a frustrating habit of fielding punts inside the five (or even in the frickin' end zone one time) -- but it seemed like whenever he did that, he'd return it for 30 or 40 yards.
This may encapsulate Tate's tenure with the Seahawks, in fact -- knucklehead plays here and there but punctuated by amazing feats of athleticism that makes you forget all about that thing he just did that you were yelling about. He's that player that makes you stand up and yell, "What the hell are you doi... OH MY GOD GO GO GO GO GO!"
For what it's worth, Tate had Pro Football Focus' highest punt return rating in 2013, by a long shot over Dexter McCluster and Jeremy Ross. He also had a few field-flipping punt returns at extremely opportune times this year, with the Seahawks trailing and needing a big play. Again, he's just exciting with the ball in his hands. He's tough to bring down, he's extremely athletic and he's sure handed.
4. Given how the Seahawks are built to win, I'm assuming their decision to not match the Lions' offer and let Tate walk simply came down to putting that money and cap space toward more important things (i.e. their pass rush). Is this accurate, and what are your thoughts on the contract (five years, $31 million) the Lions gave him?
Yes -- as I noted above, I think Tate got a fair deal from Detroit. In fact, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if that deal looks like a steal a few years down the road. Seattle probably could've matched it and maybe should have, but with the acquisition of Percy Harvin, the money allocated to the receiver spot was going to be a little out of proportion to their needs. Seattle has guys like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, Byron Maxwell, Doug Baldwin and Russell Okung (oh yah and Russell Wilson) coming up for new deals, so I think they came up with a number that they were willing to give up for Tate, and the market didn't allow them to get it done.
Tate called the Seahawks' offer laughable. It probably was. I just think Seattle realized that they would prefer to spend big on the pass rush and with keeping some of their core defensive players rather than retaining Tate. It speaks more to their other needs more than to how good of a player Tate is. For what it's worth, fans here are very bummed out about it, and the Seahawks are going to have to find a way to beat the Rams without him, because he was absolutely integral to both of their wins over St. Louis last year.
5. Since the Lions signed Tate, we've heard plenty about the donut incident from a few years ago and his taunting penalty from last year, but he came off as a pretty mature person during his first press conference in Detroit. How would you evaluate Tate off the field?
He's fine. The Golden Tate Donut Caper, as it was called here, is long behind him. The taunting thing is different, and too isn't really concerning to me. He's a fiery competitor and he's not lacking in confidence. The Rams are one of Seattle's biggest rivals (think the Bears or Packers for you guys), and there is absolutely no love lost between the two teams. Both sides play tough, both sides talk trash incessantly. Tate made the catch, taunted down the field for about 60 yards, but the truth is, it was a huge play and ultimately won the game for the Seahawks. He apologized for it, and when he scored two touchdowns against the Rams at home in Week 17 (and believe me, he took an absolute beating in that game -- you guys should go back and watch it), he did so stoically, calmly and professionally. After the taunting incident, he vowed to be more professional, and he succeeded at that the rest of the year.
He is playful in the media, though, and will talk trash. He speaks his mind. I don't mind that, but it can make him a lightning rod of sorts for controversy. That said, he's been a model citizen off the field, as far I as know. He does (and will continue to do) charity events in the Seattle area and hasn't gotten in trouble since the donut incident his rookie year.