It is no secret: the New England Patriots currently have a shortage at the wide receiver position. A combination of offseason losses, injuries, a suspension, and a retirement left the team thinner than desired – and potentially looking for additional reinforcements from the outside, at least until de-facto number one wideout Julian Edelman returns from his league-induced ban after the fourth regular season contest.
While there will be plenty of options available once roster cutdowns start later this week, the Patriots could also look to acquire a wide receiver via trade. One of the names that is currently floating around is the Detroit Lions’ Golden Tate: Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss threw the veteran out there over the weekend while thinking about an imaginable trade that would also involve New England’s Malcom Brown and Elandon Roberts.
Reiss noted that he is not aware of the Lions actually considering moving on from Tate, but his scenario received a noticeable boost yesterday when former Patriots staffer Mike Lombardi tweeted about it (slightly altered from Twitter-speak for readability): “Golden Tate is in the last year of his deal – and Mike Reiss does not throw stuff off the wall. It makes sense to target him; reasonable price and fits their offense to a tee.”
Lombardi spent two seasons with the Patriots in 2014 and 2015, and served as an assistant to the coaching staff. His relationship with New England head coach Bill Belichick goes back farther than that, however, as he also worked under the future Hall of Famer when he was still with the Cleveland Browns. Safe to say that Lombardi knows how Belichick works and which players could be possible targets for the team.
Tate is one of them, it appears, and it would not be that big of a surprise to see the Patriots actually inquire about him. Not only does the team need more depth at wide receiver, it also has a good relationship with Detroit’s front office: head coach Matt Patricia served as New England’s defensive coordinator from 2012 to 2017, while general manager Bob Quinn worked his way up the team’s scouting department from 2000 to 2015.
The line of communication between Foxboro and Detroit therefore is an established and open one. Furthermore, both organizations are run on the same basic principles in terms of their schemes and their value-based approaches to business. Because of that, a trade involving Tate could quickly evolve from a theory to an openly discussed reality. But what would its implications be from New England’s perspective?
Above all else, the Patriots would add an experienced, durable and proven fourth option alongside their current top three wide receivers Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson. Over his four years with the Lions, Tate did not miss a single game and as the team’s number two option at the position averaged 93 catches for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns – all while also serving as a part-time punt returner.
Why would Detroit part ways with such a productive player? His financials and long-term outlook could be the reasons behind the Lions’ theoretical decision to move on from Tate. The 30-year old, who will hit the team’s salary cap with $9.35 million this year, is scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency next season. The team might therefore be willing to already hand over the keys to last year’s third-round draft pick Kenny Golladay.
While those factors would not make Tate expendable in 2018, they could come into play if a team like New England called to ask for a trade. How would such a trade look like? That’s the question, but Reiss’ idea of moving defensive tackle Malcom Brown – a productive but one-dimensional former first-round pick that is entering the final year of his rookie deal – and linebacker Elandon Roberts seems to be a plausible one.
After all, both were drafted when Patricia was still the Patriots’ defensive coordinator and are expected to be natural fits in Detroit – the team will run the same basic scheme as New England under new coordinator Paul Pasqualoni. Both Brown and Roberts have worked well and a lot in this scheme since joining the Patriots in 2015 and 2016, respectively, but still have room for additional growth. A change of scenery could spark this.
And while there are no indications yet that New England would be willing to move on from the two youngsters, seeing a trade like this unfold would not be out of the ordinary: the team has traded starting-caliber players entering the final years of their contracts before (see: Chandler Jones, 2016), and also has moved on from seemingly valuable rotational pieces in the past (see: Jacoby Brissett, 2017).
With solid depth at both defensive tackle and to a lesser degree linebacker, and elsewhere on the roster if need be, New England should be able to handle the potential departures of Brown and/or Roberts. Judging by roster composition, trading one or multiple players for Golden Tate would therefore make sense from the Patriots’ perspective. The same goes for trading draft picks: with compensatory selection part of the equation (but not yet awarded), New England could have up to nine selections available next year.
The framework for a trade would therefore look solid from both teams’ perspectives, but there still appears to be one major issue: money. As noted above, Tate is scheduled to hit Detroit’s salary cap with $9.35 million this season – $7.0 million of which would transfer to the Patriots if a transaction actually took place. With New England currently only $9.53 million under the cap (via Miguel Benzan), adding Tate would put financial pressure on the team.
For this to work, at least one of two scenarios would have to take place: either one or more players get moved off the Patriots’ books as part of the deal – Brown and Roberts, for example, would free up a combined $1.47 million under the current “rule of 51” –, or Tate immediately agrees to a contract extension that would lower his 2018 cap by converting parts of his $7.0 million salary into a signing bonus spread out over the length of the new contract.
All in all, trading for Golden Tate would be an intriguing move by the Patriots – one that would add a legitimate receiving weapon to the current core of players. Whether or not it turns out to be more than a theory remains to be seen, though. However, it looks as if both Reiss and Lombardi can envision it taking place.