- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions had stressed since the end of the season that one of the things they needed to do was find a receiver to complement Calvin Johnson and take the pressure off their top receiver.
Get someone to line up opposite him in the hopes of creating more space for one of the best receivers to ever play in the NFL.
It took less than 24 hours into free agency, but they found the receiver they had targeted from the start, signing Golden Tate to a five-year deal worth $31 million, according to colleague Josina Anderson. This was a signing the Lions had to have, and it brings perhaps the best receiver to fit them on the market.
The Lions needed a receiver with flexibility, versatility and speed to be the effective No. 2 to Johnson. Tate can play on the outside and in the slot if need be, offering new Detroit offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi flexibility to play either of his top two receivers in the slot or on the outside since Johnson has grown more comfortable in the slot every year.
Tate improved every year he was in Seattle and has grown immeasurably from his first season at Notre Dame, when all he ran were "go" routes because he was still learning the playbook. He developed into a receiver who could run every route with some of the best hands in the NFL, and last season he caught 64 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns.
Now in an offense that will throw the ball deeper more often than Seattle did during his four seasons there, he has a chance to thrive. He will rarely see double coverage, allowing him to use his speed to beat cornerbacks.
And those hands. In four seasons, Tate has dropped seven passes with a career drop percentage of 2.7 percent -- something Detroit sorely needed after leading the NFL in drops last season. Those hands are in part because of his other athletic background, baseball.
While in college, Tate was Notre Dame’s center fielder, as well as one of its top wide receivers, and was good enough to be drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 42nd round of the 2007 draft. It might not sound like a high pick, but there was the knowledge he was never going to actually abandon football for baseball. Otherwise, he would have gone higher.
So everything kind of made sense, from a dollar amount and a fit, for the Lions to land their top target in Tate.