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March 12, 2014 at 1:43 PM

What the loss of Golden Tate means for the Seahawks

Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times

Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times

The Seahawks lost receiver Golden Tate to the Detroit Lions because he became too expensive. Tate signed a five-year contract reportedly worth $31 million, including $13 million guaranteed.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Tate told reporters at his opening press conference in Detroit that he thought he was going to stay in Seattle: “I kind of did. I did expect to be in Seattle. I knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t.”

But Tate’s departure is not surprising. In the end, Tate opted  to sign for a bigger contract than the Seahawks were willing to offer, with a team featuring the league’s best wideout and a potentially explosive passing attack. And, in the end, the Seahawks decided they were better off finding a replacement for Tate through free agency or the draft than forking over $6 million a year.

Tate’s departure does leave a hole in the Seahawks roster, albeit one the Seahawks saw coming. He was their leading receiver a year ago. More than that, he was also a highly dangerous punt returner. Tate was ninth in the league in average yards per punt return last season, and he swung a handful of games in Seattle’s favor with momentum-altering returns (Houston and Tampa Bay come to mind).

That, as much as anything, is an area the Seahawks will need to address in Tate’s absence. Tate was the only player to return a punt for Seattle in 2013. And the Seahawks backup punt returner last season, Walter Thurmond, is also a free agent.

The Seahawks will also look for help at receiver. Seattle already let go of Sidney Rice to avoid paying him a large salary this season, but he could still return on a smaller deal. The Seahawks return Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette at wide receiver, but they will likely look to bolster that group in the coming months.

Tate is the definition of a home-grown player. He was in the first draft class of coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider in 2010. His coaches always rave about his hands and natural athletic ability, but that didn’t always translate early in his career. He has openly admitted in the past that he was too erratic in his few couple of seasons and didn’t produce to the level expected of him.

In his final couple of seasons, particularly last season, Tate added more substance. He was more reliable. He caught 69 percent of the passes thrown his way, good for 17th in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. And he led Seattle with 64 catches, 898 yards and five touchdowns.

He didn’t lose the flash, either. Quarterback Russell Wilson liked to say that Tate was quick as a cat, and Tate still had that slippery knack of eluding defenders that made him turn a 3-yard gain into an 8-yard gain.

But he became too expensive in his final years, especially with the Seahawks targeting defensive lineman Michael Bennett this offseason and with looming extensions coming for Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson in the near future.

He also moves from an offense that ranked 31st in the league in passing attempts last season to one that ranked fifth. The Lions threw the ball 214 times more than the Seahawks did a year ago. Detroit looked on track to make the playoffs last year before faltering late.

“I just feel like we’re close,” Tate said at his opening press conference, according to the Detroit Free Press. “After looking at all the pieces and the plan, I feel like this organization is close.”

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