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Golden Tate trade gives Carson Wentz another valuable third-down weapon

The Eagles hope the acquisition of Golden Tate will improve the Eagles' third-down offense, which has been inconsistent this season. Tate is tied for sixth in the NFL in third-down receptions.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday, October 28, 2018. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday, October 28, 2018. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYong Kim

Ever since the Eagles traded up in the 2016 draft to get the quarterback of their dreams, Carson Wentz, their clear No. 1 priority has been to surround the big guy with talent.

So, it didn't come as a giant surprise Tuesday that, when the Eagles pulled the trigger on a trade-deadline deal, it was for a wide receiver rather than, say, a defensive tackle, safety or cornerback, which are three defensive positions that have been leaking oil at one time or another this season.

The acquisition of 30-year-old Golden Tate from the Detroit Lions for a third-round pick gives Wentz, who has been relying far too heavily on Alshon Jeffery and tight end Zach Ertz, another much-needed pass-catching option, particularly on third down.

Even though Wentz is eighth in the league in passing with a 109.6 rating, the Eagles are 21st in scoring after finishing third last year. They are averaging 6.4 points per game fewer than a year ago.

"It's hard to find really good players, and this is a really good player,'' Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman said of Tate, who has 44 catches in seven games this season and has caught 90-plus passes in each of the last four seasons for the Lions. "What he does with the ball in his hands is special.''

Where the Eagles hope Tate can really help them is on third down. The 5-10, 197-pound wideout is one of the league's best third-down receivers.

Last year, the Eagles were dominant on third down and in the red zone. Wentz led the league in third-down passing before his Week 14 knee injury.

His replacement, Nick Foles, completed 26 of 32 third-down passes in the postseason and had a 158.1 third-down passer rating in the playoffs, the highest in the Super Bowl era.

But in their first eight games this year, the Eagles have been inconsistent on third down. They're 13th in third-down efficiency (41.3 percent).

They have a 51.7 third-down success rate in their four wins, but 29.4 in their four losses.

They converted just two of nine third-down opportunities in their Week 5 loss to the Vikings and only three of 12 against the Panthers two weeks ago.

Wentz's 99.1 third-down passer rating is 24 points lower than last year.

Enter Tate. He is tied for sixth in the league in third-down receptions this season with 15. No one on the Eagles currently has more than 10. In his previous four seasons with the Lions, Tate averaged 27.2 third-down receptions.

"It's a big factor in terms of improving our weapons and the supporting cast around our quarterback,'' Roseman said.

"When we have these conversations [about a player], a big part of it is talking to our coaches and asking them what their vision is of Golden and how they would use him.

"When you talk to them and see the excitement on their faces about getting him in here and the way they can get him involved and also the opportunity to open things up for our other players, it was really exciting.''

The addition of Tate should encourage Wentz to spread the ball around a little bit more than he has been. In the four games prior to Sunday's 24-18 win over Jacksonville, 84 of Wentz's 158 passes, or 53.2 percent, were targeted for Ertz (45) and Jeffery (39).

The pair caught an impressive 61 of those 84 passes (a 72.6 percent catch rate), and had 41 of the Eagles' 62 receiving first downs in those games (66.1 percent). But Doug Pederson's offense is most effective when the quarterback is spreading the ball around like Wentz did against Jacksonville Sunday when he threw passes to nine receivers.

It will be interesting to see the impact Tate's arrival has on Nelson Agholor. Tate has lined up primarily in the slot in his nine NFL seasons, which also happens to be where Agholor usually lines up in "11" personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR).

Agholor, who had a breakout season with the Eagles last year, is second in receptions with 41 but is averaging just 9.1 yards per catch. It was only 8.5 before a three-catch, 49-yard performance Sunday.

"You have versatility there [at wide receiver],'' Roseman said. "All of those guys can play inside and out. You're not going to have one guy line up every down in a particular situation where the defense knows where he's going to be.

"That's another part of the excitement of bringing this guy in: his inside-out versatility. Same with Nellie. Alshon lines up inside and out. Our coaches have a game plan for all of those guys.

"We want to be multiple on offense. We want to be a handful for defensive coordinators.''

It also will be interesting to see what impact Tate's arrival has on the Eagles' heavy reliance on "12" (1RB, 2TE) and "13" (1RB, 3TE) personnel groupings. When the Eagles have used "12" personnel, Jeffery and Agholor usually have been the two wideouts in the grouping. Will Agholor be the odd man out?

The Eagles also expect to get second-year wideout Mack Hollins back soon, and maybe even Mike Wallace. Both are on injured reserve but can be brought back.

"When we were looking at this moment in time, it's not only this move [acquiring Tate] that we're making, but some guys that we anticipate coming back for the second half that we think are really going to add to our team,'' Roseman said. "It's almost like making additions without giving up picks.''