Out on the NovaCare Complex’s fields Thursday, in the early minutes of practice, Golden Tate kicked his legs during calisthenics with his teammates, then fell into a pass-catching drill with the Eagles’ other wide receivers. The quarterbacks, Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld, wore red jerseys. Six-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery appeared to tower over the wideouts, though Jordan Matthews is listed at the same height. Those players stood out. Most didn’t. Tate didn’t. He hasn’t since he arrived two months ago.
Was that what the Eagles hoped for when they traded a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions – a receiver who wouldn’t stand out? No, but it’s what Tate has been. In his eight games as an Eagle, he has caught 30 passes for 278 yards and one touchdown, a steep drop in production from the five receptions a game he averaged in his previous four seasons.
“I’m not expecting anyone to change the offense or cater to me,” Tate said days after the trade. “Wherever I fit in, I want to do it the best I possibly can, wherever it may be.”
So, has this been his best? It’s difficult to make that argument. Yes, the Eagles picked up their play late in the season, finishing 9-7, winning five games after acquiring Tate, and earning a matchup Sunday against the Bears in the wild-card round. So, did the trade hurt them in the short term? No, but it’s difficult to make the argument that it helped much.
“He came to a group that we thought was pretty good, so we were just adding a little more depth to that spot,” coach Doug Pederson said. “That doesn’t take away from Jordan Matthews and what he’s done. I think [Tate has] settled into his role and what he’s doing. He’s made some significant plays for us.”
Most of those plays, though, came in the Eagles’ two easy victories over the Washington Redskins. Tate had seven receptions, including a 32-yarder and a six-yard touchdown, in a 28-13 win on Dec. 3, then made a nice 14-yard catch-and-run for a first down in the Eagles’ 24-0 win Sunday. But the notion that Foles’ presence at quarterback acts as a rising tide hasn’t applied to Tate.
In five games, Wentz targeted Tate 30 times for 19 receptions and 189 yards. In Foles’ three games since, he has targeted Tate 14 times for 11 receptions and 89 yards. By comparison, Matthews, whom the Eagles signed two games into the season, has been targeted 28 times for 20 receptions, 300 yards – a healthy 15 yards per catch – and two touchdowns. As much as the Eagles’ coaches and players might respect Tate’s skills and accomplishments and work ethic, they also have eyes to see.
When he was asked, for instance, how well the Eagles had assimilated Tate into their offense, tight end Zach Ertz said: “Golden is a great person, first and foremost. He’s fun to be around. He’s a really good teammate. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Then, Ertz turned to Tate’s on-field performance and place within the offense. The turn was a hairpin.
“Is it easy to assimilate an offensive guy in the middle of the season? No,” he said. “That’s just the matter of fact, especially in this offense. Everything is detail-oriented. Most of the time, it takes a year, year-and-a-half to learn the offense. At the same time, Golden picked it up pretty quickly, so he’s a talented player. I think everyone knew what we were getting when we traded for him. The guy had 90 catches in back-to-back years. He’s really talented after the catch. We don’t have a lot of those guys, who are really good after the catch like he is. So we’ve got another game to try to make this thing work and maximize the value of that trade.”
The implication, of course, is that the Eagles and Tate have not maximized the trade’s value yet, though Sunday, in theory, gives them a good chance to do so. The pressure that the Bears’ defense generates on opposing quarterbacks is likely to compel Foles to make quick reads and throws, sub-two-seconds stuff. As the slot receiver, Tate would seem an obvious countermeasure against that pass rush.
“He’s very quick. He’s very shifty. And he’s very good after the catch,” Ertz said. “So, you put him in situations like that to be successful. In our offense, those things are already built in, so we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel to get him involved. You just put him in spots where you know he didn’t have to think too much, because when you’re thinking too much as a player, you’re going to play slow. He’s a very, very talented football player, and I know he’s going to help us in this playoff run.”