By adding Golden Tate, Eagles create their best receiving corps out of necessity | Mike Sielski
The league is all about points and offensive production, and the Eagles' newest receiver gives the defending Super Bowl champs a shot at keeping up with the league's best.
For Nelson Agholor, a Sunday afternoon without playing football means, apparently, a Sunday afternoon without watching football. So, with the Eagles on their bye week, he didn't see a second of the Atlanta Falcons' 38-14 victory over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, of Matt Ryan throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns and completing passes to six receivers and tearing the Redskins' defense apart. But then, he didn't have to see even half a second of that game to know why the Eagles had traded a third-round draft pick last week to the Detroit Lions for wide receiver Golden Tate.
"That's what it's about," Agholor said Monday. "You look at the L.A. Rams. You look at the Patriots. You look at a lot of teams. You look at even New Orleans. Obviously, these are teams that have a lot of weapons, and they get guys the ball – Kansas City. However you go, the best teams in this league have a lot of weapons, and everybody's getting fed."
That's what it's about, all right, for the Eagles and for the NFL on the whole. Ryan is having, statistically speaking, one of his best seasons, and he has been an afterthought amid so much offensive sophistication and production. The Rams and Saints, for instance, are the two best teams in the NFC, their records an aggregate 15-2, and on Sunday, their offenses combined for 80 points and their quarterbacks completed 70 percent of their passes for 737 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Patriots traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for a wide receiver who had played in 10 regular-season games – and missed two full seasons for violating the league's substance-abuse policy – over four years. Yet because that player was Josh Gordon, arguably the NFL's most talented wide receiver, and because they believed Tom Brady needed another terrific skill-position player, they were willing to take the risk that Gordon would stay straight for them. (So far, he has, catching 22 passes for 396 yards in six games.) It was a risk that, if they wanted to return to the Super Bowl, they probably had to take, given what Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and the Kansas City Chiefs have been doing. They're 8-1, and Mahomes' highlights – the long passes, the scrambles, the big plays to speedy receivers and running backs – ought always to be set to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
The Eagles, at 4-4, took a chance themselves in acquiring Tate, giving up a valuable draft pick for a player who will enter free agency after this season. But they were simply keeping up with an NFL-wide movement. Their offensive and defensive lines have been areas of greater weakness, but at the trade deadline, it was easier to upgrade at receiver, and in doing so, look what they've created: In Tate, Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, and tight end Zach Ertz, the Eagles have equipped Carson Wentz with arguably the best collection of receivers in franchise history. Certainly, it's the best since their 1960 and 1961 teams, when Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen could choose among Tommy McDonald, Pete Retzlaff and Bobby Walston.
This isn't Mike Quick and an immature and troubled Cris Carter. This isn't Terrell Owens and two high picks – Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell – who never quite justified their draft status. These are four receivers in their primes who already have established their bona fides. In the modern NFL, this is what a team does when it has a franchise quarterback – it banks that making him better makes the whole team better – and this was a necessary strategic alignment for the Eagles not only if they were to reach the playoffs, but if they were to have a realistic shot of winning a game or two once they got there.
"Well, you need a lot of weapons, for sure," Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "I mean, you've got to spread people out and make them choose a little bit in how they want to defend you. When you've got a complement on the other side of the field that they've always got to be aware of, that makes you a lot harder to defend."
"Just watching our team from afar, you see the ball being sprayed around a lot of places," Tate said. "You see a quarterback who makes some things happen on his feet, can throw on the run with the best of them. You see a bunch of guys just making plays. It doesn't matter where the ball is going."
What the Eagles' offense will look like with Tate is a mystery for now. Tate has been one of the league's best slot receivers for years, strong and shifty and smart, able to free himself quickly so that his quarterback – in Detroit, Matthew Stafford; here, Wentz – can avoid taking hits and getting sacked simply by feeding him the ball. Does his presence mean Agholor will move outside and become the de facto deep threat? That's to be revealed starting Sunday night against the Cowboys. This much, we know: The Redskins are 5-3. They're the team that the Eagles have to catch in the NFC East. And on Sunday against the Falcons, they couldn't handle a similar offense with similar firepower and a similar approach. That game, that result, that wave around the entire NFL, demonstrated why the Eagles got Golden Tate. Anyone could see that.
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