Tate: I’m ready to be No. 1 if Calvin retires

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Golden Tate, left, and Calvin Johnson

San Francisco — Whether it was intentional or not, the Lions spent many of their resources in the 2014 offseason preparing for the possibility of life without Calvin Johnson.

In addition to drafting tight end Eric Ebron in the first round that year, the Lions signed wide receiver Golden Tate to a five-year, $31 million contract.

And if Johnson does retire, as he’s considering after nine seasons, Tate said he’s ready for a bigger role in the offense.

“Absolutely, that’s how I prepare,” Tate said about the prospect of becoming Matthew Stafford’s top target. “I prepare as if I’m the No. 1. I didn’t come to Detroit thinking I was No. 2.”

Although Johnson’s presence has a greater impact on opposing defenses, Tate has measured up to Johnson statistically the last two years. Although Johnson had more receiving yards in 2015, 1,214 to 813, Tate had more receptions, 90 to 88.

When Johnson missed three games in 2014 and was extremely limited in a couple others, Tate took advantage of his extra opportunities, leading the Lions with 99 catches for 1,331 yards. For Tate, preparing like the No. 1 receiver is important because injuries or other factors could limit NFL players at any time.

“I have a lot of confidence that I can do it, and I hope that everyone else does as well,” he said.

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Tate has been in San Francisco this week participating in various Super Bowl activities. On Friday, he was on radio row promoting Pizza Hut, something about Golden Tate in the Golden State and a golden pizza.

When he initially heard about Johnson considering retirement, Tate thought it was more related to his contract than health issues.

“I don’t know how serious the injuries are, but I know there’s been times where I’ve gotten out of bed after a Sunday game and almost fallen on the floor because I’m in so much pain,” he said. “And I’m a guy who can kind of manipulate tacklers and not get the (hardest hits from) them most of the time, so I understand. But I would say this: We want Calvin in our organization for forever, but I just hope he makes the right decision. I hope that he takes the time he needs. I hope that regardless of which way he chooses that he has no regrets.

“He’s given a lot to this game, and we’re truly blessed to have had the opportunity to watch him and it’s special.”

And if Johnson does retire, Tate said he expects coach Jim Caldwell and general manager Bob Quinn to make the necessary moves this offseason to overcome the loss.

“Calvin, he’s a special player,” Tate said. “We all know that, and he’s going to be very, very tough to replace. And in my mind, whoever you bring in is not going to be Calvin Johnson. Calvin Johnson — in my opinion playing with him for two years and seeing what he’s done — is arguably the greatest player to play the game. So, that’s going to be hard to replace, but we’ll see what happens. I trust in coach Caldwell and the new management that we’re going to definitely take the appropriate steps to be a championship organization consistently.”