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Kozora: Golden Tate Sure Would Look Good In A Steelers’ Uniform

Look, I know the odds of the Pittsburgh Steelers making a trade deadline deal are slim. That’s how the league works, the sport with the fewest such deals, and how this organization operates. If it isn’t draft day or the dead of summer, don’t count on Kevin Colbert making any moves. The only October trade he’s ever made was picking up Levi Brown, the football equivalent of my McLumina.

But let me – no, us – dream for a minute. Golden Tate would be perfect in a Steelers’ uniform. And as unlikely as it’ll happen, you should hope for it too.

Allow me to get the obvious out of the way. Why not go after a corner? I hear you. In a perfect world, that’s what I would want. I’d also want to date Selena Gomez and have an unlimited supply of pizza rolls (the second goal automatically cancels out the first, unfortunately). Getting a corner just doesn’t seam feasible. The market is slim pickings after Eli Apple’s trade and Patrick Peterson agreeing to stay put in Arizona. Janoris Jenkins is 30 with two big years left on his contract and Gareon Conley – a move I’m not opposed to – doesn’t provide a short-term fix. The Steelers will have to live with the cornerbacks on their roster. That’s just reality.

So what do you do if you can’t improve a weakness? Strengthen a strength. And that’s this offense. Clearly. The only piece missing is a #3 receiver. The Steelers have everything else. A top three offensive line? Absolutely. Two star receivers, a franchise quarterback, and stud running back? You know it. Vance McDonald has given them a quality weapon at tight end.

But they haven’t been able to establish a #3 guy to pair with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. I still have faith in James Washington but maybe his impact won’t be felt until 2019. Justin Hunter? It’s time to move on. The Steelers seemed to know it too, the CBS broadcast reporting Ben Roethlisberger told him this week was his last chance to prove something. Two catches for 15 yards proved only what we already knew.

Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers, I guess you could argue, are fine in the roles they occupy. But they’re slot receivers on a team with an established one in Smith-Schuster. You need someone capable of playing the Z receiver role. Someone tough, physical, who can run the entire route tree.

Hello, Golden Tate.

His name was mentioned yesterday by the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero as a darkhorse for today’s deadline. The report said the Lions would need to be “blown away” by an offer but, and this was curious, Pelissero suggested it would take just a 4th round pick to get him.

Tate shot back with a funny quip that would seem to simmer down those rumors but he wouldn’t be the first player to be unexpectedly traded. Last week, Amari Cooper was in the middle of practice and told to pack his bags. He was going to Dallas. The NFL moves fast.

Would I give up a 4th for Tate? Absolutely.

Beyond why I would do it, we’ll get to that in a moment, it makes sense for the Steelers to have interest. Full disclosure, there’s absolutely no report connecting them to Tate. Then again, the news just came out and Ian Rapoport tweeted there are a few teams interested. Maybe the Steelers are poking around.

2010 was a long time ago but when Tate was coming out of Notre Dame, the Steelers brought him in for a visit. Last year, before they took on Detroit, Tomlin had two separate, detailed breakdowns about Tate.

“Golden Tate is a dynamic guy, one of the guys you could easily describe as a football player first and wide receiver second. He’s good with the ball in his hands, he’s good without the ball in his hands. He’s good after the catch, just a real, tough combative receiver.”

That was from Tomlin’s opening analysis of the Lions. Towards the end of his presser, he was again asked about Tate.

“I just love skill guys who play with a certain demeanor. Wideouts who play like linebacker. The first guy I used to describe in that way is Hines Ward…so that just speaks to the regard I hold for Golden Tate. He’s a physical, combative guy. He always has been. He was when he came out of Notre Dame. We tripped him prior to the draft. He’s good in the run game blocking. He’s good after the catch in terms of being a difficult guy to get on the ground in terms of contact balance and play demeanor. He’s just a very physical guy. When you look at wideouts and cornerbacks who play like that, it speaks to you, jumps out at you.”

I know Tomlin praises each team like they’re the ’27 Yankees but that was beyond the norm. I’m half-expecting Tomlin to throw rocks outside Golden Tate’s window, holding a boombox over his head. Invoking Hines Ward’s name is no joke.

If there’s a guy Tomlin could go get, I bet it’s Tate.

He did just turn 30 this year but continues to play at a high level. Despite more weapons surrounding him, a healthier run game and Kenny Golladay’s emergence, he’s caught 44 passes and three touchdowns this year. That includes an eight catch, 132 yard, two touchdown domination of the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4. Like this 45 yard catch and run for a score.

He might not be a true vertical threat but his run-after-catch ability is  among the best in the league. He’s annoying to tackle and he’ll let you know about it. The kind of guy who can still kill you if you leave him one-on-one because you’re rolling coverage to AB. Tate can, and will, break away from a lowly cornerback.

Yes, Tate has mostly been used as a slot receiver, especially the last two seasons. And like I wrote above, ideally, you want to bring in a Z receiver because that’s the vacant position. But Tate has been in the league forever and has played – and thrived – at all three spots.

In 2016, he played much more on the outside after the Lions added Anquan Boldin. He finished the year with 91 catches for 1077 yards and four scores. The guy can produce anywhere.

“I mean, I had 1,000 yards last year playing from the outside and I had 1,000 yards my first year playing both, really,” Tate said in this 2017 ESPN article. “So I think it’s unique that I can execute outside or inside. I don’t really want to label myself as one or the other.”

That versatility is a plus, allowing Brown and Smith-Schuster to move around and align at different positions and splits. Tate’s experience inside is a plus, not a minus.

Getting a true vertical threat, like Desean Jackson, would be valuable. But you can’t have everything. Tate is still a big play threat because of that after-the-catch ability. His 2018 average is only .2 yards fewer than Brown (12 to 11.8) and his eight receptions of 20+ yards are one more than Brown and tied with JuJu. He’s making big plays, even if it’s a little unconventional.

Make no mistake. Tate is a rental. That’s a good thing. Washington is still going to be the receiver of the future, no later than the start of 2019. His contract makes it possible. Tate is entering the final year of his deal and with half of the season gone, the Steelers will only owe him roughly $3.5 million. The NFLPA lists the Steelers with close to $10 million in cap space so financially, it makes sense. Put that money used in restructuring Cam Heyward’s deal to good use.

I know this probably isn’t going to happen. I’m not sure why the Lions would punt on the season and deal Tate (but hey, that’s the report). Tate is a fit for what the Steelers’ offense needs, what they like, and in Omar Khan’s spreadsheet.

And in my heart. Now, hopefully yours too.

UPDATE (1:53 PM): Tate has been traded to the Eagles for a third round pick.

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