Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, and Justin Rogers look ahead to this weekend's game with the Bears and the Lions' playoff chances. Detroit News
Allen Park — The first hint came via social media this June. The statement has been made on the field this fall.
Message received, Golden Tate. You deserve an extension.
Admittedly, it’s a bit premature to be talking about a new deal for the dynamic Lions receiver who is under contract through the 2018 season after signing a five-year pact in 2014. But general manager Bob Quinn has set something of a benchmark with his key players — including quarterback Matthew Stafford, cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin — re-upping with each the month before the start of their final season under contract.
If the trend holds true, the team should be announcing a deal for Tate next July.
He has openly expressed his desire to stay in Detroit, first tweeting about it in June when Julian Edelman agreed to an extension with the Patriots.
And let’s be clear, Tate has earned it.
He’s been the model of consistency with the Lions. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s caught at least 90 passes each of his first three seasons, and he’s on pace for another 90-reception, 1,000-yard season this year. Pro Football Focus currently ranks him as a top-five receiver.
“I just want to find a way to bring more value to this team and win games,” Tate said. “It’d be great to have those personal stats along with the NFC championship and Super Bowl on my belt because then we’re talking some business now.”
At 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, he’s far from a prototypical No. 1 receiver, but in the areas he excels, he does those things better than almost everyone. No receiver makes defenders miss in the open field more than Tate, and it’s a big reason he frequently sits near the top of the league in yards after catch. Those abilities have made him Matthew Stafford’s favorite target on third down in recent years.
“This guy, consistently, when you look at the whole body of work, this guy’s been exceptional,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “This guy plays, and plays well, year in and year out. He’s consistent.
“He’s been around a while and all he’s done, every single year, is play this game and play it at a very, very high level. Maybe a game or two here or there (he’s struggled), so be it, but that’s going to happen. But he’s been really good for us. Really good.”
This week, the Lions travel to Chicago to play the Bears. The last trip might have been Tate’s lowest point in Detroit. He was off to a sluggish start to the year, adjusting to life without Calvin Johnson and his, at the time, red-hot replacement Marvin Jones.
Against the Bears, things hit rock bottom. Tate caught one pass for 1 yard. Near the end of the first half, he missed a signal from Stafford and ran the wrong route, resulting in an interception. Stafford has since shouldered the blame for not relaying the call well enough, but he was livid in the moment. The blunder led to Tate’s benching in the second half of the loss.
Back to top form
No one likes to be benched. It’s humiliating. But instead of making him sulk, it re-ignited Tate’s fire. He racked up 982 receiving yards the final 12 games.
It was a rare bump in the road in what has been an otherwise symbiotic relationship between quarterback and receiver. They developed quick chemistry when Tate came aboard in 2014 and appear to be on the same page now as much as ever.
“I think it started way back in April, when we came back,” Tate said. “It’s something we’ve been building on every year since I’ve been here and I think I understand the offense and I think I understand Matt better, and I think he understands me and what I do.”
And while Tate’s production is enough to merit a new contract, it’s more than that.
It’s his toughness. He’s still fighting through a nagging shoulder injury that was initially expected to cost him a few games. It’s his standards. He’s sought to instill the championship culture he learned in Seattle into the Detroit locker room. And it’s his character. He’s active in the community, has a foundation dedicated to working toward veteran causes and hasn’t had any off-field issues in his three years with the team.
He's the guy who stops to chat with owner Martha Ford and family before almost every game, and the one who took a knee to interact with a 5-year-old cancer patient attending last Sunday's game, no doubt brightening the young fan's day.
Tate will turn 31 by the time his next contract kicks in. That’s going to be a factor, but shouldn’t be a deterrent. He’s shown no signs of slowing or breaking down. In many ways, it mirrors the recent re-signing of Quin, who turns 32 in January.
Retaining some players is a no-brainer. Tate has reached that status, and when the time comes in a few months, the Lions need to make the easy call to keep him in Detroit.