NFL Nation: Golden Tate

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – He’s able to come in and meet with his coaches now, finally able to pick their brains about what the new Detroit Lions offense will look like. What he might be expected to do under his new coaching staff that he didn’t have to do before.

Already this week, Matthew Stafford has spent time watching old game tape of both the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens offenses to try and learn. He’s studied the routes those receivers ran, the varying plays both teams implemented.

He knows it won’t all be the same and he anticipates having a lot of questions – but it’s a start.

[+] EnlargeMatt Stafford
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDetroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has been a fixture in the film room during the offseason.
“It’s exciting. These guys have great track records, have worked with some really great players at the quarterback position, specifically,” Stafford said. “I’ll be picking their brains as much as they’ll allow. Obviously Golden [Tate] is a big-time addition to our team.

“He’s going to be a big contributor this year and we’re excited to have him.”

Much of the offseason has been focused around Stafford because of what happened to Detroit at the end of last season. The Lions collapsed at the end of the 2013 season, eventually costing former coach Jim Schwartz his job, mostly due to an inefficient offense prone on drops from receivers and turnovers from Stafford.

So look at what the Lions did this offseason. They hired a head coach, Jim Caldwell, and quarterbacks coach, Jim Bob Cooter, who has worked with Peyton Manning. They hired an offensive coordinator -- Joe Lombardi -- whose main experience was as the quarterbacks coach for Drew Brees in New Orleans. Their two biggest free-agent signings were pass-catchers – Tate and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. They also brought back another big offensive piece, Joique Bell, to complement Reggie Bush.

The focus has been offensive at almost every turn, all to help Stafford be the best version of himself as a quarterback. He also recognizes for the Lions to be good, he has to be good.

“In the NFL, if your quarterback plays really well, your team generally plays really well, and I understand that. We’re no different than any team,” Stafford said. “The better I play, the better we’ll play as a team. Common theory says that. Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do. I want to be as good as I can possibly be, not for myself but to help this team win, and that’s the No. 1 goal.”

Stafford said he has not spoken with Brees about Lombardi but had texted with Manning about Caldwell and the progression Manning made under his former head coach. Since the hiring of this staff, that has been the focus of the questions -- how will they work with Stafford to turn him from a good quarterback with inconsistencies and some accuracy issues into one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

“He’s a sharp guy,” Caldwell said. “He’s smart. He’s dedicated. He wants to be good and still, it’s obviously quite present in his attitude today, yesterday and tomorrow, right? He’s a worker. I have no doubt, with a guy that has that kind of attitude and obviously he has ability, both physically and mentally.

“He has the intellect to do it and I think he’ll be fine.”

Stafford has already put some of the work in by grabbing the old game film to understand the receiver route trees he might now be throwing to as opposed to what he worked with under Scott Linehan. He doesn’t know the terminology yet -- that’ll come -- because the offensive installation has been in meeting-form only thus far.

He knows he needs to improve and make smarter, better decisions. From what he says, he’s committed to doing so. That’ll start now, by making sure he learns as much as possible and asks so many questions it is almost like he’s turning into a reporter.

“I think I can always improve. I’ve had some really great moments, some bad moments, for sure,” Stafford said. “But the biggest thing I want to do is help this team win any way I can. I’m going to be learning a new system and I want to be coached in that system as well as I can.

“I don’t know everything there is to know about this system, for sure, and so I’m going to ask a bunch of questions and do everything as right as I possibly can.”

Detroit’s success depends on it.
 Mike EvansThomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsIf Mike Evans is available when the Detroit Lions pick at No. 10, Mel Kiper Jr. would select the Texas A&M wide receiver.
Since the end of the 2013 season, when the Detroit Lions once again found themselves in the familiar position of being in the top 10 of an NFL draft, many questions have been asked about what the team will do with the pick.

Could they trade it and try to move up to nab receiver Sammy Watkins? Could they try to trade back to acquire a position of need – perhaps a cornerback – and also to stockpile picks? If they stay at No. 10, what could happen?

Would they draft a wide receiver? Reach for a corner? Take the best defensive player available or best player available (other than a quarterback) period?

With Detroit not in the market for a starting quarterback this season, the Lions have many, many options available to them a month from now when the NFL draft starts at Radio City Music Hall.

And with so many potential scenarios playing out, I gave one to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. last week. Four names, four different positions, one slot – assuming Detroit stays at No. 10 – available. What does he think the Lions would do if wide receiver Mike Evans, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Justin Gilbert were all available at No. 10?

This came on the heels of his Grade A draft last week , when he selected defense for the Lions in the first three rounds. He did that, in part, because he doesn’t seem to believe Evans will be available for Detroit at No. 10.

So what does he think Detroit would do if those aforementioned four players were all sitting there for the Lions?

“If Evans, Barr, Clinton-Dix and Gilbert are there, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Kiper Jr. said. “It’s Mike Evans because he’s the highest-rated player, by a pretty good margin now. I always say, if you’re picking at 10, you have to get a guy who is six, seven or eight. He’s number five on the board right now. Five, six on my board, right on the heels of Sammy Watkins as the second-best receiver in this draft and some may even have Evans ahead of Watkins. He’s a big-time talent. He’s a physical freak.

“People say, well, he reminds some of us of Mike Williams, well, yeah, you could make that argument but he’s much more consistent catching the ball and is more explosive. But there’s always going to be that comparison. So I would say Evans.”

The Lions, of course, drafted Mike Williams in 2005 -- the first draft Martin Mayhew was the assistant general manager for. That selection did not work out too well for the Lions, who were hoping to pair Mike Williams with Roy Williams for a dynamic receiver pairing.

Unlike 2005, receiver isn’t as big of a need position since the team signed Golden Tate to be the team’s No. 2 receiver this offseason.

Kiper went on, though, and explained what he thinks the Lions might do if Evans is unavailable at No. 10 – and considering Tampa Bay traded the other receiving Mike Williams (Syracuse-and-still-in-the-NFL variety) to Buffalo – the Bucs are now in desperate need for a receiver and pick ahead of Detroit.

“Clinton-Dix is still the major need. He’s a hot guy right now and is clearly, I think, the consensus best safety,” Kiper said. “So if you want to stretch it a bit and fill a need, I’m not saying they are stretching because their rating may have Clinton-Dix in the top 10, but I would say just on need alone in a division with Aaron Rodgers and [Jay] Cutler and you know Minnesota is going to address the cornerback spot, I would say they may stretch it a bit for Clinton-Dix if Evans was gone at that point.”

This would be a fairly logical selection for Detroit even though the team signed James Ihedigbo to a two-year deal this offseason to play next to Glover Quin. Ihedigbo will be 31 years old by the end of the season, and if the team can pick someone up to be a third safety this year and a starter by 2015, that scenario would put them in a good position in the defensive backfield for the first time in a long time.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He was on a rival a year ago, unsure about his future in the NFL and not knowing whether he would have a job with the Green Bay Packers for much longer. Jeremy Ross made the roster then fumbled away his opportunity early in the season.

This is all known by now, part of Ross’ past. The receiver/returner in some ways had to go through all of that to find his home now, to get released from Green Bay and then land in Detroit weeks later, first on the practice squad and then as the team’s primary returner when he replaced Micheal Spurlock.

Here he is now a year later, on the first day of voluntary workouts for Detroit, and his role with the Lions appears to be somewhat set. After returning both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season and also being dynamic in his ability to bring back kicks and punts along with being a gunner on punt coverage, he has a place with the Lions.

So now he’s trying to expand on it and work himself into a refurbished receiver rotation behind Calvin Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ross
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Ross wants to be more than a special-teams player for the Detroit Lions.
“I feel like I have a lot to offer,” Ross said Monday afternoon after dropping his bags in his car. “My versatility is something good. I can play slot. I can play outside. I can be in the backfield. I can do a lot of different things for the offense.”

While winning one of the receiver slots would increase his standing with Detroit and help to solidify a roster spot come fall, his primary value entering the offseason workouts will be as a returner and special-teams player.

He trained in the offseason for everything, but worked specifically on both his straight-line speed and his ability to change directions quickly. He also worked on his strength and his quickness, the former to help give him a better foundation than he had a season ago.

Last season, Ross essentially was a returner and an occasional offensive player. He played 175 offensive snaps for the Lions last season, caught five passes for 59 yards and dropped two balls. He was also targeted on only 10.2 percent of the routes he ran. He also had two rushes for 40 yards.

His role was smaller last season, though. He was playing behind Johnson, Kris Durham, Nate Burleson and, at points, Kevin Ogletree and Ryan Broyles. He had to, in some ways, wait. Now with a new coaching staff, he can try to move up on his own merit.

“It’s good. New coaching staff. Fresh start,” Ross said. “Everybody’s coming in and coming in to compete. So when they are looking and evaluating, they aren’t going off of previous years. They are seeing what’s in front of them and that’s how they are going to make their decisions.”

That includes the spot where he has worked out the best -- on returns. With the Lions signing Golden Tate in the offseason and Tate expressing a desire to keep returning punts if possible, Ross will have competition from a player the team has invested a lot of money in as both a receiver and, if possible, returner.

Will that change how Ross does things? It won’t. After all, he is in a much better place than a season ago no matter what happens.

“I go out there and I work hard. I don’t really need any external motivation,” Ross said. “I’m pretty motivated.

“So I’ll just continue to do what I do to work on technique, catch balls after practice, watch film, all the things I’ve done in the past to do well.”

Nearly a third of the league inquired about receiver DeSean Jackson, but not all the teams are known. Two of those teams reportedly have fallen out of the race for Jackson -- and both have coaches who previously worked with him (Andy Reid in Kansas City and Marty Mornhinweg with the New York Jets). The assumption is that this sends up red flags about Jackson; that’s not necessarily the case.

And it’s hard to get a good feel on who is really interested. Oakland and Washington definitely are, though to what extent remains to be seen. Jackson arrives in Washington Monday and will visit Tuesday. Thus far, it’s his only reported visit.

San Francisco’s name came up when Jackson was on the trade block and the 49ers had expressed interest in free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate, among others, before he signed with Detroit. So it would make sense that they’d at least inquire about Jackson. Tampa Bay has said they'd take a look, though it was a rather tepid endorsement.

Here’s a little handicap of some teams that have expressed interest or reportedly want to get in the race:

Washington Redskins
Cap space: Approximately $7 million
Why he’d consider: It’s a premier market in a premier conference. Oh, and they get to play the Eagles twice a year. The Redskins would have a lot of speed offensively with Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed and would be a major threat down the field. Add to it an athletic quarterback who can extend plays and the off-schedule explosions would increase. Robert Griffin III’s deep-ball ability will be important -- and his ability to extend plays. Jackson’s agent, Joel Segal, has definitely taken quarterback play into consideration in the past with his receivers. If Jackson is forced to take a one-year, prove-it deal, this especially would be a factor.
Why he wouldn’t: Because other teams can offer more. Washington can’t compete if Jackson’s strong desire is to return to the West Coast and play for the team he grew up rooting for (Oakland). If they want a more proven coach, San Francisco and Tampa Bay have to be a consideration (if the Bucs are strongly interested, which is debatable). And if San Francisco truly is interested, then the 49ers clearly would offer him a better chance for team success. The Redskins still have other needs to address so they can only spend so much, and it's hard to gauge how aggressive they'll be. But the fact that they have the first visit says something.

Buffalo Bills
Cap space: Approximately $13 million
Why he’d consider: They have more cap room than most teams, so they could offer the sort of contract that could get it done now -- if they wanted to go that high. They need what Jackson provides (though many teams do).
Why he wouldn’t: The Bills aren’t a marquee team and their quarterback situation is questionable. EJ Manuel started 10 games as a rookie and showed flashes, but remains unproven. That has to be a strong consideration. None of their receivers had more than 597 yards last season, so how secure could you be? They have a good young talent in Robert Woods, a solid receiver in Stevie Johnson (nagging injuries, however) and a fast young guy in Marquise Goodwin. But that’s not exactly a Hall of Fame trio. The draft has to be an attractive option, so that could limit what the Bills would be willing to offer.

Oakland Raiders
Cap space: Approximately $15 million
Why he’d consider: Because the Raiders were his favorite team growing up and he played college ball at nearby Cal. Jackson is a West Coast kid, and if his desire to return there is strong, then it will be hard to top. The Raiders need help at receiver so Jackson would fill a big hole. Also, the Raiders have more money than the other teams reportedly interested thus far.
Why he wouldn’t: The Raiders have a wait-and-see approach going on and, while they’d like him, they won’t overspend. So if another team is more aggressive, then Jackson could end up elsewhere. Also, other than going back to California, the Raiders aren’t exactly an attractive franchise. Their coach, Dennis Allen, will enter the season on the hot seat and their quarterback, Matt Schaub, is not known for throwing deep all that often. At this point, it’s uncertain if he remains a quality starting quarterback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cap space: Approximately $12 million
Why he’d consider: They have a potentially strong structure with new coach Lovie Smith. He’s a proven coach in the first year of his regime so he’ll be around several years at least. The Bucs have another explosive receiver to pair with Jackson in Vincent Jackson. Both are dangerous down the field. Oh, yeah, and they have the cap room to absorb a bigger contract.
Why he wouldn’t: Smith’s history suggests building around the run game and the defense. Also, they have a journeyman starting quarterback in Josh McCown and a second-year guy in Mike Glennon, whom the new coach did not draft (and replaced right away). So there are questions at this spot. Their interest is said to be lukewarm, so it’s hard to imagine them overspending for Jackson.

San Francisco 49ers
Cap space: Approximately $4 million
Why he’d consider: It’s the best team, it’s near where he played college ball and it puts him back on the West Coast. They need a receiver who can stretch the field to pair with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Jackson would provide that and then some. They also have a big-armed quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who can let Jackson run under the ball and remind everyone of his explosiveness. Unlike Washington, the 49ers also have a defense that plays at a championship level, so if Jackson wants to produce and win, this could be the stop.
Why he wouldn’t: The 49ers were reportedly interested in pursuing a trade, according to Pro Football Talk. But their cap number isn’t high and they already have talent at receiver. They could opt for the draft, which is deep at this position and has a few players with Jackson-like qualities (though no one can match his acceleration on deep balls). Hard to know what the reported friction with the 49ers between general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh means for the future of either person and, subsequently, a guy like Jackson.
DETROIT -- It started with a profile, because pretty much everything with the Detroit Lions these days begins with a conversation to put together the vision in their heads.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonGolden Tate, a four-year NFL veteran, will be expected to fill out the Lions' receiver set.
It is how Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew brainstormed the criteria they would like in their next head coach after they fired Jim Schwartz in December. And not surprisingly, it is what they did again when they hit free agency last week.

They all met together -- scouts, coaches and front office staff -- and put together exactly what they would be looking for in each need position in free agency. That included wide receiver, where the Lions have made their biggest move thus far.

“We put together a position profile that says this is the kind of skill set we need to have," Lewand said Monday evening at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “Then you have a profile and these are the guys who are available. Who are the guys that are available in free agency that match that profile and Golden Tate was a guy who matched that profile in that complementary receiver to Calvin (Johnson).

“A guy that brings certain skills."

What were those skills?

Lewand didn't get into specifics when discussing his team's newest receiver acquisition, but by parsing together various statements throughout the past three months from Lewand and new head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions appeared to focus on three factors.

First was hands, and considering Detroit's issues with merely catching the ball a season ago, this became obvious. The Lions dropped 46 passes last season -- 7.5 percent of Matthew Stafford's throws. Tate, meanwhile, has dropped seven passes in his four seasons and has a 2.7 percent drop rate.

So that's an obvious improvement.

“It's very important and that's why we're receivers is because we can catch the ball, although sometimes it might not seem that way," Tate said. “One thing that I did notice from watching (Matthew) Stafford throw the ball (last week) when I was meeting with coach (Joe) Lombardi is that sometimes Stafford will throw a covered guy open.

“What I mean by that is he might throw a back shoulder or throw it high and to the right and I feel like that's one thing I excel at is catching low balls and balls that are outside my frame."

Second was the ability to make contested catches. Tate has no issue doing that, often being able to leap up between cornerbacks and safeties to come down with the ball despite his 5-foot-10 frame. He can fight on the shorter and intermediate routes along with battling cornerbacks on deeper patterns. Going along with that toughness is his ability to block. He is a more than willing blocker and is actually good at it for his size.

Third was not verbalized, but Caldwell spoke at Tate's introductory news conference that they were looking for someone with leadership and character. Tate grew in these areas during his first four years in the NFL, culminating in winning a Super Bowl last season.

Additionally, he is used to playing alongside another top receiver, as he did that at Notre Dame opposite Michael Floyd, now with Arizona.

So when Detroit brought Tate in last week, it knew what it wanted to accomplish -- and was assisted by the snow.

“We knew there was going to be a snowstorm," Lewand said. "He came in the night before, came in late Tuesday night, and we knew the snow was going to come and it was going to be hard for him to get out to his next destination."

The team woke him up at 6 a.m. -- 3 a.m. on Tate's body clock time -- for his physical and by noon, instead of visiting the stadium, all he wanted was the nap he spoke about at his news conference later last Tuesday.

By then, Detroit knew it received its complementary pass catcher to Calvin Johnson and now any concern shifted from whether he fit the profile the Lions set to how he will fit once the team actually begins practice next month.

So goes the risk with any free agent. Until a team sees how he blends in during practice and what his role ends up being and that he can remain healthy, bringing in new players becomes educated guesswork.

“You want that vision to come to fruition, but there are a lot of different factors," Lewand said. “You don't make or break your team in free agency. You can add strategically."

With the signing of Tate, that's what Detroit believes it did.

Free-agency review: Lions

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
A week in, here's a quick review of the free-agency period for the Detroit Lions:

Most significant signing: Considering that Detroit has mostly signed depth or re-signed its own free agents, the obvious choice is receiver Golden Tate. The former Seattle Seahawk will complement Calvin Johnson and should take pressure and attention off of the Lions' top receiver. He can also spread the field, has elite hands and can block extremely well for a 5-foot-10 receiver. He plays taller than he is and should be a good addition to Detroit.

Most significant loss: Defensive end Willie Young was a productive player who often became overlooked because of the star power in the middle (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley) and the emergence of Ziggy Ansah at the other end. But Young is a long, rangy end who was good against the run and showed improvement. That he went to one of Detroit's top rivals, Chicago, adds to the significance because the Lions will see him at least twice a year.

Biggest surprise: That the Lions didn't make a bigger play earlier in the safety market. Like receiver on offense, safety is Detroit's biggest need on defense after the release of Louis Delmas. The team looked like it was interested in Chris Clemons and had reportedly expressed interest in T.J. Ward, but so far the only safety the team has brought in is James Ihedigbo. While Ihedigbo could fill a need if he signs, Detroit could have tried to make a bigger play here considering the market and the need. Unless the Lions draft one.

What's next: Solving the backup quarterback issue. The Lions need to have a veteran behind Matthew Stafford, and Kellen Moore just is not going to be a viable option there right now. Detroit, be it through re-signing Shaun Hill or signing someone like Luke McCown or Ryan Fitzpatrick, has to have a player with some experience ready to come in if Stafford were to get hurt. Detroit has too many other pieces to let that be an actual issue.

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Steelers

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
As much of a shortage as the Pittsburgh Steelers have at defensive end, there probably isn’t a player at that position who is worthy of the 15th overall pick.

And the Steelers’ need at cornerback is just as acute, which is why they would be thrilled if they had a chance to take Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Gilbert going to the Steelers in his third mock draft, and the speedy Gilbert would contribute immediately while also shoring up the position from a long-term standpoint if he is as good as advertised.

He and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard are considered the top two cornerbacks in the draft, and Kiper said on Thursday that both “could be in play” for the Steelers.

“Gilbert’s a guy to me that ability-wise deserves to be that high,” Kiper said Thursday during a conference call. “In run support [he’s] not going to be a big factor, but a lot of these corners aren’t. Darqueze Dennard, he’s great [in] run support. He’s as aggressive a tackler as you’ll ever find. I love the way he plays against the run, but this is a pass league.

“If you could take Dennard’s aggressiveness and put it with Gilbert you’d have a top-five pick. Both are real good players and both are going to go, I think, in the mid-first-round area. Some like Dennard, some like Gilbert. I give a slight edge to Gilbert, but like them both.”

The Steelers could still go in a number of different ways with their first-round pick, and free agency, which is still in its infancy, has already dropped a couple of pieces into the draft puzzle.

The signing of Mike Mitchell all but rules out the Steelers taking a safety with their first-round pick. Another signing outside of Pittsburgh could also impact the Steelers’ draft.

The Lions lured Golden Tate away from Seattle, signing the wide receiver to a five-year contract on Wednesday -- and perhaps making it more likely that Detroit addresses its secondary with the 10th overall pick in the draft.

Kiper has the Lions taking Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans in his latest mock draft, but the Tate signing could allow Detroit to target a player such as Gilbert in the first round.

Kiper said he thinks Evans would still make a lot of sense for the Lions even with the signing of Tate.

“He’s solidly in the top-10 area,” Kiper said.

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Lions

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
The Lions might have signed Golden Tate and Kevin Ogletree already this week, but that hasn't stopped Mel Kiper Jr. from predicting Detroit will go wide receiver again in the first round of May's NFL draft.

Kiper is tabbing Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans with the No. 10 pick to Detroit, and while it would make sense for the Lions to pick up another receiver, considering who else is available on Kiper's board still at No. 10, it might be a stretch.

Based on Kiper's latest mock draft, the Lions would have their pick of Evans, linebacker Anthony Barr, tight end Eric Ebron, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and cornerback Justin Gilbert. All, in one way or another, have been linked to Detroit early in the process.

And considering the team's needs at the present moment -- safety, cornerback, tight end and defensive end -- it would be surprising to see Detroit go with Evans if this were the way it were to shake out.

Of course, a lot can shift between now and May, or even a week from now, when most of the quality free agents will have likely been scooped up. And if Detroit addresses some of its other needs, then Evans becomes a potential value/best player available pick and could give the Lions a dynamic receiving corps.

Here is Kiper's take on why he would still go with Evans:
"After the Lions signed Golden Tate, the obvious reaction is to think they go another direction here. I'll counter and say that the Lions didn't just need one wide receiver, they needed two, and I'd also say that while Tate is a nice addition, he doesn't do much to ease the worry of what this offense looks like when Calvin Johnson isn't healthy. The Lions shouldn't be done at this position, and I think Evans is too good to pass up here. Tate's presence doesn't mean this is no longer a need."

There is definitely logic there, especially if offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi believes Tate will be more effective in the slot than on the outside or wants to get super creative and use Johnson in the slot more often. But depending on what Detroit needs, it might not be the best use of such a high draft pick.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Three days ago, Golden Tate figured everything would stay the same. He was in the Los Angeles area and had his younger sisters visiting from Ole Miss for spring break.

He had just won a Super Bowl with Seattle and had been one of the offensive keys to success on a defense-oriented team, but it was a good situation. One in which he had planned on staying.

[+] EnlargeTate
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsGolden Tate, a Super Bowl champion with Seattle, is heading to a pass-oriented offense in Detroit.
Except that within a few hours of free agency starting, those plans changed. He was on a plane Tuesday night for Detroit and the possibility of leaving the franchise that drafted him in 2010 for the cold Midwest where he had played his college career.

His sisters were left behind in Los Angeles while their brother went to find out if his life was going to change.

"I did expect to be in Seattle. I knew there was a chance that I wouldn't," Tate said. "It was kind of poor planning on my part. It was their spring break and I was like, 'OK. Yeah, yeah, just come on out. Whatever.' Next thing I know, I was leaving.

"I expected to be in Seattle but I had an open mind that it might not work out that way and it didn't."

Tate's plans were thrown out of whack by more than just his potential move to a new city. The weather in Detroit grounded him -- he was initially supposed to be on a midday flight -- and allowed him to get in a nap at the practice facility and eventually sign his five-year, $31 million deal that will bring him to the Lions.

When Tate arrived Tuesday in Detroit, he ate dinner and said he watched Lions highlights in his hotel room. He had to be up at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday to go through medical testing before making it to the facility in a snowstorm. He met with coaches for a couple of hours and also had a 15-to-20 minute meeting with Lions vice chairman William Clay Ford Jr., a meeting Tate mentioned multiple times during his introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon.

"I went in his office and we talked about a couple things," Tate said. "We talked about football. We talked about charity work. We talked about golf, which is another selling point for me. I hear there are a ton of golf courses, which is so exciting. I have to calm down a little bit.

"We kind of just sat there and got to know each other a little bit and you can tell right away he's a very genuine guy, down to earth guy and that's the type of people I want to surround myself with."

Other than the contract, Detroit's potential offense sold Tate. After playing in a run-heavy Seattle unit where the focus was on a dominant defense, the only way he would leave the Seahawks would be to go to an offense that was at least balanced if not focused on passing.

In Detroit, for multiple reasons, he found that. Tate heard the way new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi described the playbook and saw the way he fit. He knew he could line up opposite Calvin Johnson and that the two could perhaps draw coverage away from the other.

Add running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, along with a strong-armed quarterback in Matthew Stafford, and it felt like an offensive fit.

"After talking to coach [Robert] Prince and coach Joe [Lombardi], I definitely see myself moving around in the slot and outside, over to Calvin's side, us stacking sometimes," Tate said. "There's so many things you can do with a player like myself and a player like Calvin that it's going to be hard to stop us, to be honest."

His future teammates noticed -- even before Tate officially signed.

Earlier Wednesday, Bell said Tate would "be a valuable piece to this already deadly offense."

There are also familiar faces in Detroit for Tate. He played college football at Notre Dame with running back Theo Riddick and tight end Joseph Fauria, who eventually transferred to UCLA. And in Seattle, he was teammates with Kris Durham, who became the Lions' No. 2 receiver last season after an injury to Nate Burleson and ineffectiveness from Patrick Edwards.

"Happy to have him in Detroit," Durham said in a text message to "Played with him over in Seattle and I know he's going to bring some excitement to the team with his skills."

Those skills are diverse. He can play inside or outside and said he would still be open to returning punts -- a role currently held by another receiver, Jeremy Ross.

But this is what Detroit wanted. It had to find a complement to Calvin Johnson, but it did with one of the top free agents on the market. They needed a receiver with strong hands -- he has some of the best hands in the NFL over the past three seasons -- and someone who could have speed to stretch the field opposite Johnson.

"We were looking, from the offensive standpoint, to find a guy who could go on the other side and be our No. 2 and play opposite to Calvin and certainly give us some work inside and out," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "With immeasurable talent catching the ball and also a guy who can provide some great leadership as well.

"Sets a tone and Golden Tate is going to be that individual."

An individual with a flight to catch after some changed plans. His goal was to return to Los Angeles on Wednesday night so he could spend one day with his sisters before everything else in his life continues to shift.

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.

Tate should be comfortable with his role, as at Notre Dame he was not the No. 1 but played the smaller alternative to another tall, talented receiver, Michael Floyd, now with the Arizona Cardinals.

So everything kind of made sense, from a dollar amount and a fit, for the Lions to land their top target in Tate.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Joique Bell had his news conference Wednesday to chat about his new contract that could keep him with the Detroit Lions for the next three seasons, but he also touched on some other topics unrelated to his new deal.
  • Bell
    Bell confirmed that he ran into wide receiver Golden Tate -- a free agent the Detroit Lions are pursuing -- in the hallway of the team's offices Wednesday afternoon. Tate was headed into the room that Bell just walked out of after signing his contract, but Bell didn't know if that meant anything.
  • Bell said he has spoken with Ndamukong Suh -- Suh was the third person to call him after news of his new contract broke -- about Suh's contract negotiations. Or, rather, Suh's lack of negotiations at present.

    "He said they really haven’t been negotiating right now," Bell said. "He said his focus is coming in next season, and it’s easy for us just to be the players. That’s why we hire our agents, to worry about that type of stuff."

    Bell said that's about all he knew about Suh's status. Suh is entering the final year of his contact with a $22.4 million cap number.
  • Bell never worried at all about a long-term contract not getting done with Detroit. That's not surprising since it appeared all parties wanted to do the deal.
  • Bell called offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who he had as a coach in New Orleans, "brilliant." Bell really seemed high on him and also described Lombardi and Jim Caldwell the same way, as guys who you didn't want to disappoint and coaches who rarely yelled.
  • Bell's son, Jordan, attended his father's news conference because it was a snow day at school in the Detroit area.
  • Bell opened his news conference by offering condolences to the Ford family, who are mourning the death of owner William Clay Ford Sr., who died Sunday at age 88 after battling pneumonia.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's official: The Green Bay Packers will have a new starting free safety next season.

We don't know who it will be, but we know it won't be M.D. Jennings.

After starting every game for the Packers last season, Jennings wasn't even offered a restricted free-agent tender before Tuesday's deadline. On Wednesday, he signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears.

Given how ineffective Jennings was last season, the decision not to tender him was expected. Although Jennings was a full-time starter last season, the Packers tried to replace him at various points, using Chris Banjo early in the season and Sean Richardson late in the year.

Jennings was part of a safety group that failed to come up with a single interception last season. The Packers were the only team in the NFL that did not get an interception from one of their safeties in 2013.

Jennings, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent from Arkansas State, will be best remembered for being on the wrong end of the Fail Mary play against the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. Jennings thought he intercepted a pass that instead was ruled the game-winning touchdown by Golden Tate.

The Packers were not involved in any of the first wave of safeties to sign shortly after free agency opened Tuesday. Six safeties -- Donte Whitner, T.J. Ward, Antoine Bethea, Malcolm Jenkins, Jairus Byrd and Mike Mitchell -- all signed significant contracts within the first 24 hours of free agency with Byrd's deal (six years, $64 million with the New Orleans Saints) topping the market.

Last month at the scouting combine, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Micah Hyde likely will play some at safety this season, but it's unclear if the second-year defensive back will make a full-time transition from cornerback.

Jennings might not be the only Packers player on the Bears’ radar. According to the Chicago Tribune, they have interest in Packers outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, who is an unrestricted free agent.

Also on Wednesday, the Packers set up their first free-agent visit. Former Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels will meet with the Packers. Daniels, who played at the University of Wisconsin, was released by the Texans last week in a cost-cutting move. Daniels missed all but five games last season because of a broken leg.

The Packers are in the market for a tight end because they could lose both Jermichael Finley (who is visiting the Seahawks) and free agent Andrew Quarless.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- While Golden Tate is the big name coming through Detroit on Wednesday, two other players are also scheduled to visit the Lions in the next 48 hours, according to the team's official reporter.

Center Phil Costa, who was released by Dallas, is scheduled to visit the Lions on Wednesday and fullback Henry Hynoski, formerly of the New York Giants, is slated to come in Thursday.

Hynoski played in 23 games for the Giants, mostly as a blocking fullback along with some special teams. In three seasons, he played 545 offensive snaps and gained 158 yards with one touchdown. He missed most of the 2013 season, though, with a fractured shoulder. The 25-year-old also has his own website that has a picture of him hurdling.

Costa, 26, could potentially be viewed as a more veteran replacement for center Dominic Raiola down the road, while also meaning the Lions wouldn't have to draft a center and then work with him to eventually replace Raiola. Costa started every game for Dallas in 2011, but played in just six games over the past two seasons. He had back and ankle injuries that derailed his 2012 season and then was replaced by Travis Frederick in 2013.

Thus, he became an expensive backup on the Cowboys' roster and was released.

Golden Tate to visit the Lions

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
Seattle Seahawks free agent receiver Golden Tate is about to find out how much other teams want him, and if they’re willing to pay the $6 to $7 million a year he wants to leave Seattle.

Tate will be in Detroit on Wednesday to visit the Lions. Obviously, Tate would be the No. 2 receiver there behind Calvin Johnson. Other team visits, the Jets could be one of them, are possible before he makes a decision.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider said keeping Tate is a priority, but the price could become a factor. Seattle released wide receiver Sidney Rice, which saved $7.3 million of cap money. But it’s unlikely the Seahawks would go higher than $5 million per year for Tate.

Seattle had a big signing Monday in keeping defensive lineman Michael Bennett, which proved to be even more important Tuesday when they lost defensive tackle Clinton McDonald to Tampa Bay and defensive end O’Brien Schofield to the New York Giants.

The Seahawks now are working to keep defensive tackle Tony McDaniel. The team also might be interested in one of the free agent defensive ends -- Jared Allen, Julius Peppers or maybe even Demarcus Ware -- if the price is right on a one-year deal.

It appears Seattle could lose cornerback Walter Thurmond to the Jaguars, who are becoming the Seahawks-East. Thurmond is making a visit to Jacksonville on Wednesday.

Golden Tate to visit Lions

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
Though the Detroit Lions didn't make many moves in the opening flurry of free-agency festivities, they seem to be plotting to make some moves soon.

Per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, wide receiver Golden Tate is headed to Detroit on Tuesday night for a visit and the team has expressed interest in safety Chris Clemons.

For now, these appear to be the two top-line targets for Detroit in the first days of free agency.

Tate is a versatile receiver who can play both outside and in the slot. Although he's shorter than the typical Jim Caldwell wide receiver, he has the speed, explosiveness and return skills that could make him a valuable asset to the Lions if he were to sign. Tate has improved each year in Seattle, going from 21 catches and 227 yards as a rookie to 64 catches for 898 yards and five touchdowns last season.

At 25 years old, the 5-foot-10 product of Notre Dame is hitting the prime of his career and could fill the role left by Nate Burleson both as a receiver and a voice in the locker room.

As for Clemons, he appears to be the safety the Lions are going to focus on since Jairus Byrd -- who is likely too pricey for Detroit -- is on a plane to New Orleans and T.J. Ward signed with Denver. Clemons, who went to Clemson, had 190 tackles and three interceptions over the past two years.

Clemons graded out at a plus-7.2 in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus last season and would fit what the Lions want as far as a coverage safety to pair with Glover Quin.

The Lions did sign receiver Kevin Ogletree in the first moments of free agency and The Baltimore Sun is reporting that deal is worth $795,000, including $100,000 guaranteed and a $65,000 bonus.




Sunday, 2/2