This past weekend I spent my Saturday covering the Lions’ eighth day of training camp. I went to camp with a few things that I knew I wanted to see for myself. I wanted to see how the run game looked, if the offensive line was living up to the new found hype, and if some of the new defensive players were fitting in. I came away somewhat confident I had somewhat of an answer to all my questions, but I also got an answer to a question I didn’t ask.
That question is: How important is it that the Lions keep Golden Tate?
What I saw at camp was simply Golden Tate being Golden Tate. The same quick footed and shifty wide receiver that’s made us all fall in love with him in Detroit. I started to wonder to myself, why would the Lions even consider letting this guy walk?
Look, I get it. Most Lions fans are already pretty comfortable with the idea that Golden is probably not in Detroit in 2019. I understand that Kenny Golladay is the heir apparent to the No. 2 receiver spot, and he will likely knock it out of the park when he gets that chance. But the Lions shouldn’t throw Golden away because of that. Here’s a few reasons why.
Yards after the catch
So let’s start here with this play. This is a perfect example of why the Lions need to keep Tate. His after-the-catch skills are second to no wide receiver. In 2017, Golden Tate led all wide receivers in yards after catch with 546 yards. He was second in 2016 with 588, fourth in 2015, and first in 2014.
Golden Tate may be the most dangerous man in the world with a caught football in his hands. Why would you ever want to lose that? Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. bring a lot to the table with their skills, but they can’t do this.
Golden has been with the Lions for four years now. In that time, he’s averaged a catch percentage of 70.8. That’s very good. Last year, he caught 76.7 percent of his passes. That’s the highest among all wide receivers. That essentially means that Golden is the most sure-handed receiver in all of the NFL. If you throw this guy the ball, he’s going to catch it. And as we noted above, he’s going to do something with it after he catches it.
On top of that, he’s gone over 1,000 yards in all but one season with the Lions. He was seventh in the league in receptions in 2017, and he’s only fumbled five times in Detroit. Golden is an incredibly safe bet.
Who cares about age?
Normally, I do. I have an entire free agency series in Just Say No that’s almost always focuses on the Lions not signing players over 30. In this case it’s different. Golden has not showed a single instance of him slowing down. You could argue that last season was the second best year of his entire NFL career.
That’s not to say Golden won’t get too old at some point, because he will. But make no mistake, he’s not at that point where age is going to affect his play. And if you think he’ll last more than a day in free agency, you’re out of your mind. Some team will scoop him up and he will be a star for that team at 31 years old. I may not be confident about many things in football, but this is one I would bet my life savings on.
Nobody is saying that you have to pay him everything
I think one of the things that everyone is assuming is that Tate will be expensive. This goes back to the Lions fans’ incessant need to want to balance the Lions checkbook for fear that the team is constantly running out of money. Please stop doing this.
The Lions are slated to have just over $38 million in cap space next year according to Over The Cap. That’s good for 12th most in the league right now. Besides Quandre Diggs, DeShawn Shead, Ezekiel Ansah, and possibly Luke Willson and Kerry Hyder, there aren’t many free agents the Lions will absolutely need to tie up next season. This leaves the door wide open for signing Tate to a deal.
That deal doesn't have to break the bank either. Most point to Davante Adams’ or Jarvis Landry’s deals as a guideline for Tate’s deal, and that’s fine. But the reality is that Tate won’t receive an offer as lucrative and as long term as those deals from any team, including the Lions. I think Tate knows that too. The fact of the matter is that while age may not make a difference in playing ability right now, he is nearly six years older than both Landry and Adams. His age will cost him a mega deal. But his new deal will, of course, be more than his previous deal. He’s earned as much, and he was, frankly, a steal at his current rate.
I can’t say what that deal will be worth. I don’t even want to guess. But I can say unequivocally that it needs to happen. The Lions have let some players walk that probably deserved to walk, but Golden Tate is not one of them. The Lions must pay the man.