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The Cheat Sheet: Why the Lions thought Golden Tate was expendable

Everything you need to know for Week 9 Lions vs. Vikings

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s been quite a week here in Lions land. One minute we’re trading for a big-name player on the way to the playoffs, the next we’re having a fire sale on the way to a top-10 pick.

The reality is probably somewhere in between.

I don’t think the Damon Harrison Sr. or Golden Tate trades were connected in any way. In fact, I think the writing has been on the wall for Tate for a while. Once the Lions failed to offer him an offseason contract it became clear his time on the Lions was running out.

The wide receiver market, age, and offensive scheme all played a part.


As soon as Sammy Watkins signed a three-year, $48 million deal with Kansas City Chiefs I knew the Lions would have a hard time re-signing Tate. The Watkins deal has $30 million fully guaranteed, and $34 million over the first two years of the deal.

That is a ton of money, and it’s probably just the starting point for the Golden Tate deal.


The next factor is age. Both Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia were raised up in the Patriot Way, and one of the main staples of “the way” is the idea that you’d rather be a year early on releasing a player than a year late.

Golden has shown no signs of wearing down, but the Lions clearly didn’t want to make a significant investment in a 30-year-old receiver when they have a younger option (Kenny Golladay) and a cheaper option (Marvin Jones Jr.) already on the roster.

And that brings me to scheme.


It seems hard to believe, but the Lions’ scheme may have been slowly phasing Tate out as a key to their offensive identity. The offense has slowly been adapting throughout the season, and while Tate started out on fire, his last three weeks were pretty pedestrian—averaging just five catches for 43 yards in his final three games with the team.

It seems the Lions want to continue to expand the run game and get the ball down the field. In theory, this makes sense. But when the Lions run game was shut down last week it limited their ability to do much down the field.

By the end of the year we’ll know whether or not trading Tate was the right decision, and it all starts this Sunday in Minnesota.

But, because it’s Vikings week, I’ll leave you all with this final goodbye:

Opponent snapshot

The Vikings are a true boom or bust team. They went into the offseason determined to make a Super Bowl run. And while they’ve looked good during parts of the season, they’ve also shown some warts—most notably, a leaky offensive line and struggling linebackers in coverage.

The Lions have a shot on the road if they can pressure cousins and create mismatches against the Vikings linebackers in the passing game.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings’ biggest threat

Adam Thielen

Only two players ever have gone eight straight games with 100-yards receiving:

Calvin Johnson and Adam Thielen.

Thielen will be vying to take over sole possession of the record on Sunday against the Lions. Wouldn’t it just be fitting for him to break the record this week? Unfortunately for Lions fans, I wouldn’t bet against Thielen this week.

He has been the definition of consistent this season and is probably the best route runner in the NFL. The Lions will have their hands full with him on Sunday. Keep an eye out to see if the Lions shadow him with Darius Slay in the slot.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings’ weak link

Offensive line

If there’s one thing keeping the Vikings from the Super Bowl this year it’s their offensive line. A slew of injuries created holes in the offseason and they’ve only gotten bigger as the year has worn on.

This week both Riley Reiff and Tom Compton are on the injury report and will probably be questionable heading into Sunday. Last week against the Saints, the Vikings and Kirk Cousins gave up a pressure on 22 of 45 drop backs.

The Lions formula for winning on the road will have to be to disrupt Cousins and create turnovers much like New Orleans did last Sunday.

Bottom line

This game has a ton riding on it. Despite losing last week, the Lions are not out of the NFC North race. A win Sunday would go a long way toward quieting the boo birds after last week’s loss. The problem is the Vikings are the better team, and they are at home.


Vikings 27 Lions 24

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