Is it possible for the Detroit Lions to keep the most effective receiving duo in the league after the 2018 season? I sure as hell hope so.
The Detroit Lions had a strong receiving core in 2017, ranking in the top 10 in the league for almost every offensive stat through the air ranking sixth in completion percentage, sixth in total yards, T-fourth in average yards per completion, sixth in yards per game, and T-fourth in touchdowns.
Matthew Stafford always has been and always will be the centerpiece in Detroit, using his powerful arm and intelligence to weave through the pocket and deliver dime after dime. While Stafford enjoyed his most efficient season as a quarterback in 2017, he wouldn’t have been named 31st on the NFL’s Top 100 list without the terrific duo of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr.
The pair of wideouts flew under the radar in 2017 despite Jones posting a career high in targets, yards per catch, and total touchdowns while Tate posted his fourth-straight season of 90+ catches. Defenses were conflicted on who to cover all season, with each receiver posing a different threat to the secondary. Jone’s length and vertical ability made him a dangerous target on airmail from Stafford. Golden Tate continues to play football like an artist, masterfully painting the field with meticulous route running and adroit.
Tate led the league in forced missed tackles among wide receivers (again) in 2018, putting him at number one in that category the last four out of five years. His elusive and slippery style has helped him maintain his role as one of the most elite slot receivers in the NFL. To add even more pizzazz, Jones’ tally of 18 yards per reception led the league as well. They were the only tandem in the NFL to each record 1,000-yard seasons.
There was a real connection between the two receivers and the quarterback and it could be only the beginning of something beautiful. Detroit has always had the capability of being one of the most feared passing units in the league with Stafford commanding the ship, but the key has always been solid receivers.
As far as I am concerned, Golden Tate is a Detroit legend at this point and he needs to be kept at all costs. He has really embraced his time in the Motor City and has elevated his game to new heights. He has been trying to work on an extension with the team for a few years now but has not managed to get it done. He is set to make $7 million this year with a cap hit of over $9 million before he becomes a free agent in 2019.
The man doesn’t even make over $10 million a year but consistently finished in the top 10 ranks among wide receiver stats which shows a huge pay disparity. Tate will be looking to sign a big deal that he has promptly earned. The market has changed immensely since he signed his last free agent contract and he is looking to capitalize on the shift in money.
Ideally, Tate would be signed to a five-year or more contract earning probably between $15 and $20 million a year. Jones’ contract does not expire until after the 2020 season. Like Tate, he is also being underpaid according to his production, earning only $6.5 million for the next three years.
When you start to think about defensive contracts over the next couple of years along with Stafford’s current deal set to end in 2022, things start to feel a little overwhelming. Will it be worth it to keep Tate long-term into his 30’s for a hefty price but phase out Jones? What if Jones ends up ascending to the next level and surpasses Tate in talent? Will we still have the money to keep him?
I think, at the very least, this offense needs to stay together. The tandem threat of Tate underneath and Jones overtop proved to be pretty ballin’ this year and further development of that unit would only bring more success. When you throw in young receiver Kenny Golladay, who could become even more of a deep threat than Jones, this offense is legit. Especially when Golladay still has three years to go on his rookie contract.
General manager Bob Quinn is already scheming up the finances and strategy to figure this issue out but it will be interesting to see where it all goes. As we all know, contract years are often the most wavering of factors in new deals so Tate may decide his own fate this year. To his credit, he has yet to fail, giving me no reason to suspect that he would perform badly this year.
While many fans have their eyes on the revamped run game including LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson, I will be more interested in the passing game. It as always carried the team and I expect Stafford to continue to prove his talent. We’ll see whether the run game will contribute anything this year or if it will be another year for Tate and Jones to put on a clinic.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new Detroit Lions article is published, fill out our email notification form.