The Lions’ decision to trade Golden Tate at the deadline last season hasn’t turned out great so far. The offense fell apart without him, whereas an Eagles team that was similarly a game back from first place turned the season around and won a wildcard playoff contest on his game-winning touchdown.
But that’s how trades can look at first when it’s a player for a draft pick. The Lions’ end of the deal was always future, long theoretical, and now those theories can come into focus a little bit better.
After the Eagles fell short of the Saints in the divisional round, Tate became a free agent and the trade became official: Detroit will receive the 88th pick in the 2019 draft, or the 24th selection in the third round.
The trade replenished the pick they forfeited to acquire defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand in the draft last year. It gives Detroit a steady stream of one pick per round through the first two days of the draft.
The hit rate on a late third-round pick is all over the map, of course. The draft is a guessing game in its nature, and by the 88th pick, those guesses can become more wild. But it also gives the Lions the chance of hitting on something really good that could play on a cheap rookie deal for the next four years.
General manager Bob Quinn has had success in this round so far, nabbing center Graham Glasgow in 2016 and wide receiver Kenny Golladay in 2017. Both came after the 88th pick but are fully entrenched as starters now, and Golladay was our choice for offensive MVP this season. Last year’s third-rounder, safety Tracy Walker, will start to show his worth with an expanded role this year.
Quinn has had his misses elsewhere in the draft, notably the second-rounder he spent on cornerback Teez Tabor in 2017, so you don’t want to read too much into his third-round success either. But this is largely the way the Patriots built their defenses, by turning expiring contracts or high picks into seconds and thirds and forming a collection of affordable pieces they could keep together for a little while.
The past decade of draft history shows the Lions could potentially find a star with this pick. In that span, the 88th pick has produced Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter, who has 40 sacks in four seasons; and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who has a Super Bowl MVP trophy and is ready to cash in on a big pay day. In the 10 picks after that selection in the past decade, teams have found Pro Bowlers in tight end Jimmy Graham, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, guard Trai Turner, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and defensive end Akiem Hicks.
Many of the picks have been mere solid contributors, more in the Glasgow camp. The 88th pick has produced Andre Roberts, whose kick return skills the Lions got to own in 2016; and Kyler Fackrell, who had 10.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher in Green Bay this year. In the 10 picks after that spot, teams have landed quarterback Jacoby Brissett and wide receivers John Brown and Donte Moncrief.
And, of course, the 88th pick has had its busts. Names like Corey Lemonier, Johnny Patrick and Will Clarke have never amounted to much of anything. A majority of the players taken after them in these drafts are no longer in the league either.
The Lions gave up their chance at the playoffs when they dealt Tate to the Eagles while a game out of first place. The hope was to land something of major help in the future. History shows they have the opportunity, but it can also go for nothing.
That’s just the nature of the draft.