EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Golden Tate isn’t quite sure how he’s going to feel when he walks into Ford Field for the first time since the Detroit Lions traded him last year. Tate spent parts of five seasons with the Lions before they shipped him to Philadelphia midseason.
The New York Giants receiver makes his return Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox) to the place he had once hoped to end his career, completely invested in another franchise’s program. That’s just the way Tate operates. He goes all-in where his feet are planted, just as he did in Seattle, Detroit and now New York.
Only the business of football didn’t allow any of the previous stops to be his last. It sets up a potential emotional return to a place where friends remain on the roster and special memories will forever be ingrained.
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Tate still talks glowingly about Detroit, Lions fans and some of the team’s personnel.
“We’ll see what happens the day of when I walk into the building,” said Tate, who has led the Giants in receiving yards in two of three games since returning from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. “Who knows, I might not be able to control myself, or maybe I’ll be completely calm.”
See, this isn’t cut-and-dried. Tate’s time in Detroit had its moments, but it ended in a peculiar manner.
The sides were negotiating a new deal. The Lions offered Tate a contract that he didn’t believe reflected his worth. Next thing he knew, he was gone.
“They offered me. I declined it. I think like a day later they traded me,” said Tate, who has no hard feelings and is happy with his new home. “They gave me an offer that was not what I thought I was worth. I just respectfully declined it, showed up to work the next day and …”
The two sides weren’t close. There was a significant gap between player and team.
The Lions moved Tate, in the final year of his contract, for a third-round pick seemingly because they knew they likely wouldn’t be able to close the gap between player and team.
“That is kind of what happened. No hard feelings towards the organization,” he said. “I understand it’s a business. Since I left, they’ve gotten rid of a lot of guys that were pretty good on that team. It is what it is when you get a new coaching staff, a new head coach who is going to make this his way. Sometimes there are casualties.”
Tate was one of them with Bob Quinn in his third year as general manager and Matt Patricia as the new coach. Tate was a holdover from the previous regime.
Even though the Lions wanted him, they ultimately decided it was best for everyone involved to move on.
“Certainly those decisions, last year was last year, and I know everyone involved was trying to do everything they could, but in the end, I obviously just want the best for him and everything he has going forward, but certainly know what a challenge I have to try to face him this weekend,” Patricia said this week on a conference call with Giants reporters. “He’s a great player, like I said. I have the utmost respect for him and always have through the course of the years.”
Tate was admittedly disappointed with how it worked out at the time. He was a fan favorite in Detroit and had a strong working relationship with quarterback Matthew Stafford. He didn’t want to leave.
“I put in a lot of hard work. I think I accomplished a lot on the field, off the field. I was seen as a leader. I thought I was an asset to the organization,” he said. “When I didn’t get it, I was a little bummed. That’s life.”
Tate became a free agent after serving as a rental for the Philadelphia Eagles and catching the game-winning touchdown pass in their playoff win against the Chicago Bears. He signed a four-year, $37.5 million deal with the Giants this offseason.
Returning to the Lions this offseason was never really an option.
“Probably say doubtful at that point,” he said. “Once you let me go and let me walk, I’m not going to go back. That just shows what you think of me. I wasn’t going to go back.”
After a slow start that included the suspension, he seems to have found his groove as rookie quarterback Daniel Jones‘ security blanket. Tate has been targeted a team-high 20 times the past two weeks.
The Giants are happy with their prized free-agent acquisition. They like the way he can wiggle open, especially from the slot, where he does most of his damage. All 15 of his catches and 195 yards receiving this season are from the inside. They like that he can run after the catch, gives a proven target to their young quarterback and is a veteran voice on the team.
“I think that is something that is good for a receiving corps,” coach Pat Shurmur said.
Tate is happy with the Giants (2-5), despite their early struggles. He has quickly fit in and found his way on the field after a relatively quiet first game.
There is optimism that Tate, running back Saquon Barkley, tight end Evan Engram and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion) can be a strong group of weapons when they’re all on the field. They have yet to play a snap together during the first seven weeks of the season.
“I like it. I really like the group we have,” Tate said. “I don’t like the outcome of all these games, obviously. We’re going to change that. Each and every guy in this building shows up to work. You have to appreciate that. I think it’s very, very easy to get down when you’re 2-5. I don’t see guys doing that. I don’t see guys tanking. I see guys still trying to figure it out.”
They’ll get their chance to get on track Sunday in Detroit (without Shepard) in a game that admittedly means a little more to Tate than a normal road trip. In the end, though, the goal will be the same as it was when he played for the Lions.
“Definitely have a strong appreciation for that town, the organization,” Tate said. “But at the end of the day, I’m going there to do a job. And that is to beat them.”