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The Lions knew they weren’t contenders when they turned down Patriots’ offer for Golden Tate

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Why choose an NFC contender over an AFC team?

Detroit Lions Introduce Matt Patricia Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Many suggested that when the Detroit Lions traded Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-round pick at the NFL trade deadline, they were essentially giving up on the 2018 season. Tate had been the centerpiece of the Lions offense for years, and sending him away was essentially waiving the white flag for a 3-4 Lions team that had just been dominated by a Seahawks team at home.

A report from MMQB’s Albert Breer adds fuel to that fire. According to Breer, when the Eagles traded for Tate, they had competition:

As the Eagles heard it, they and the Patriots had third-round draft picks on the table, and Detroit figured the Eagles’ pick would be higher. So off Tate went to Philly.

While it makes sense that the Lions would believe the New England Patriots would have a worse draft pick by the time the season was over—the Patriots were 6-2 at the time, the Eagles were 4-4—there’s something else going on here.

The decision to trade Tate to an NFC potential Wild Card contender over a team in the AFC suggests the Lions didn’t view themselves as serious contenders in 2018. Making the Eagles stronger while obviously making themselves worse makes little sense if Detroit could send Tate to the AFC, where he couldn’t hurt the Lions’ playoff chances.

This is a notion the Lions, and head coach Matt Patricia, vehemently denied during the season. Patricia insisted that the move wasn’t a sign of forfeiting, but expressing faith in the players in the locker room.

“We have a lot of guys that are really good on this team that can produce and honestly, for me, we have confidence in everybody that’s on this team right now, that everybody can go out and do their job,” Patricia said the day after the trade.

But the Lions’ actions don’t match that philosophy. A week later, the Lions scrambled to add Bruce Ellington, an oft-injured receiver that hadn’t had any of the accolades that Tate had. Ellington hardly produced in his short time with Detroit before succumbing to injury, leaving the Lions to rely on second and third-string receivers the rest of the way. Their offense averaged just 16.9 points per game in the final stretch, as the Lions finished 3-6 post trade.

It seems clear the Lions prioritized draft position over playoff odds.

It’s also interesting that the Lions chose not to trade with the Patriots, a team that general manager Bob Quinn obviously has a level of comfort working with, having traded with them a handful of times already in his young career. Though perhaps this is a sign of growth from the Lions general manager.

Of course, there could be something else at play here, as Lions Wire’s Scott Warheit speculates:

If that’s the case, it’s good to have friends in high places.