ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions made it crystal clear to Golden Tate that he was their top target in free agency.
They booked a flight for the wide receiver on Tuesday — when free agency began — and courted him the next day at team headquarters. The pitch included a chat with team vice chairman Bill Ford, just three days after the death of his father, team owner William Clay Ford.
Tate, who was the top receiver last season for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, liked what he heard and saw and agreed to join the Lions as NFL free agency reached its second day Wednesday. He got a five-year deal worth $31 million with $13.25 million guaranteed, according to a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
“There’s a ton of upside to this organization,” Tate said. “And one thing that really stood out to me is that Mr. Ford found some time to meet with me. I know he’s been going through a lot lately with family issues. So for him to find time in his busy schedule to meet with me and to have a conversation, that meant a lot. I felt like I was wanted here.”
Tate said the Seahawks made him an offer to stay, and that the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars also expressed interest. He insisted it wasn’t tempting to find out if the Jets or Jaguars would offer him more than the Lions did, but acknowledged it was tempting to ask the Seahawks to make another offer.
“I had a great four years in Seattle,” he said. “I’m going to miss that place to death. Great city, great people, great fans. But for me, it just made more sense to come here.”
First-year Lions coach Jim Caldwell said landing Tate was a big deal for the team, which has been looking to complement All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson.
“We were looking, from an offensive standpoint, to find a guy who could go on the other side and be our No. 2 and play opposite to Calvin and give us some work inside and out,” Caldwell said. “Golden Tate is going to be that individual.”
Tate led the Seahawks with 64 catches and 898 yards receiving last season, both career highs. The former Notre Dame star also scored five touchdowns last season, giving him 15 in his four-year career.
He is expecting to flourish with quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing to him in one-on-one coverage while defenses assign two or three receivers to slow down Johnson. Stafford threw almost 40 passes a game last season and Russell Wilson threw an average of 25 for the Seahawks.
“I’m leaving a run-heavy offense to a pass-happy offense and that’s exciting,” Tate said. “And, I can get to play with one of the best to ever play the game.”
The Lions also signed running back Joique Bell and confirmed they had hosted center Phil Costa. They are expecting to visit with fullback Henry Hynoski on Thursday.
Costa was cut by the Dallas Cowboys last week. He played sparingly the past two years after starting all 16 games in 2011, his second NFL season. The New York Giants started Hynoski in 17 of 30 games, including 11 in 2012, over the previous three seasons.
Bell was paired with Reggie Bush, giving Detroit a formidable backfield. He had a team-high eight touchdowns rushing last season and was second to Bush with 166 carries for 650 yards rushing for the Lions last year. Bell had a total of 105 receptions for 1,032 yards the last two years.
The undrafted free agent from Wayne State in Detroit played in half of the games as a rookie in 2010 with the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles. The Benton Harbor, Mich., native found a home with the Lions, who signed him off New Orleans’ practice squad late in the 2011 season after he bounced around with the Saints, Eagles, Colts and Bills.
He has also become rich, getting a $9.3 million, three-year deal.
“It’s never been about the money, but I don’t work for free,” Bell said with a smile.
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