If there’s a player on the Detroit Lions roster that knows what a Super Bowl winning team looks like, it’s wide receiver Golden Tate. Of all the Lions players, only he, Anquan Boldin, Tim Wright and Haloti Ngata have ever raised the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. Tate wears his passion on his sleeve, but he’s also an incredibly thoughtful person.
In his farewell interview with the media on Monday (highly recommend watching the entire thing here), Tate spoke glowingly of the future of the franchise. He spoke with conviction, adamantly saying he believes the team is heading in the right direction, and overall, just seemed happy about being part of the Lions franchise. In fact, one reporter mentioned how odd it was that the general aura of the locker room was a positive one. While Tate admitted this partially had to do with the extra day the players had to digest the loss, he said it was more than that. “You’ve got to be excited about where we’re going,” Tate said. “Things just feel different around here.”
Part of that difference can be attributed to general manager Bob Quinn, who just finished his first season as an NFL general manager. Quinn not only overthrew major parts of the roster, sending veterans like Stephen Tulloch and James Ihedigbo packing, but completely gutted the front office and made big changes to the Lions facility.
“We have a more complete organization, head-to-toe,” Tate said. “From Martha (Ford) making everything possible, to new additions from the cafeteria, turf field and inside the stadium.”
One of the more highly publicized changes Quinn made during his first few months with the team was a revamped fitness room—along with a new conditioning staff—and a newfound importance placed on nutrition. For the first time in team history, the Lions hired a full-time dietitian, and is one of only 10 different franchise to do so.
But the difference in this franchise is more than cosmetic, according to Tate. “We have a different mentality,” Tate said. “We have different characters around here. High character guys.”
This has been a noticeable shift in the Lions’ franchise over the past few years. During Jim Schwartz’s time as head coach, the team seemed plagued by undisciplined play. From 2009-2013, the Lions ranked in the top 10 in penalties three times, including twice in the top three. In the past three years under head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions went from having the fifth-most penalties in the league in 2013 to the tenth-fewest in 2016 (All data taken from TeamRankings.com).
In addition to on-field discipline, the Lions have built a culture off the field. After what seemed like countless offseasons in which a Lions player would get in trouble, Detroit hasn’t had a player suspended in the past two years—aside from the strange cases of Armonty Bryant and Andrew Quarless, who were both suspended for incidents that happened before joining the Lions.
“We have a great coaching staff that we want to play for,” Tate said of Caldwell and his staff. Just how giddy was he when he found out Caldwell was coming back for another season?
But, ultimately, it comes down to the talent on the roster. The Lions didn’t have any Pro Bowler or All-Pros on their roster in 2016, but Tate believes the talent is there. “We have a great foundation,” Tate said. “You look around at some of these teams. They don’t have a good quarterback. They don’t have a good defensive line. They have one or two good players. You look around, we have a couple good players in every position.”
Talk is cheap, however. Ask any player if there is any reason for optimism looking ahead and they’ll obviously say yes. But for Tate, the proof is in the pudding. “To be here three years and go to the playoffs twice, that’s special,” Tate said. “I know some guys that have played for 15 years and have never gone to the playoffs.”
The next step is a playoff win, and if the team is trending the way Tate sees it, that’s where the Lions are headed.