Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO - Imagine if the Browns and Patriots hadn't executed a trade earlier this week? Imagine if Josh Gordon wasn't in New England, parked in the Patriots locker room in close proximity to Tom Brady? 

The Patriots would still have what would widely be considered a serious need at wide receiver and this weekend would be viewed by many as an audition of sorts. 

This is Bill Belichick's chance to see Golden Tate in person. 

The reason Tate's name is intriguing in this area is layered. First, he's in the final year of his contract in Detroit. Second, he's on a roster that is deep at receiver -- it came into the season with six -- and has a good mix of young and veteran talent. Third, he plays for a team that has Patriots connections both at head coach and in the front office and the two sides have made deals before. 

Plus, there's the fact that reporters in Detroit have floated the possibility of Tate being traded. And then there's this: Our friend Scott Zolak hinted on 98.5 The Sports Hub that the Patriots would make a move for "somebody of Tate's caliber or better...I think the minimum bar is Golden Tate."

If Gordon weren't in Foxboro at the moment, what Belichick said about Tate this week certainly wouldn't do anything to quell the buzz about a possible union. 

"Very challenging," Belichick said of slowing Tate. "Golden’s excellent with the ball in his hands. He’s good without the ball in his hands, too. He gets open a lot, runs very good routes, he’s a hard guy to cover, but then once he touches the ball, he’s strong, he runs through contact, he’s fast, he’s quick, he changes directions well and he has good vision, so he sees openings and space in the field from his punt return background, kick return background and so forth. 

 

"When he gets the ball, he can get into those spaces, and he runs through tackles. He has good balance. So, yeah, all those...So, that’s a big challenge. It’s not just covering him but getting him on the ground."

Even with Gordon in the fold, there's no guarantee he's a season-long solution to the Patriots' receiving depth issues. There is the possibility that things don't work out here and that the team is once again engaged in its long-running quest for wideout help. 

Tate and Gordon, of course, are very different players. 

Gordon could, at his best, help the Patriots stretch the field vertically and give Brady another down-the-field target to work with. After a resurgent deep-ball season in 2017 with Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Gronkowski working together, Brady's seen his early-season deep work dip. 

He's attempted passes of 20 yards or more just 11 percent of the time (19th in the NFL) and his rating on deep passes is 76.6 (15th). Granted, he played one of the best defenses in the NFL in Week 2 against the Jaguars, but Brady's 83 yards on deep passes through two weeks have been on three seam passes to Gronkowski down the middle of the field. 

Tate, meanwhile, is one of the top slot receivers in football. His skill set likely matches up with Brady's more accurately, as he's a short-to-intermediate demon. His average depth of target is 6.6 yards this season, significantly lower than that of the qualifying Patriots receiver with the lowest number in that category Phillip Dorsett (9.5). 

And in terms of availability, Tate has the no-contest advantage over Gordon. Tate has missed just six games since his rookie year in 2010, and he's played in every game but one the past seven seasons.

It's no wonder Belichick is fond of the player. And depending on how things shake out with the receivers the Patriots have on their roster, maybe he places a call to the Lions at some point between now and the league's trading deadline at the end of October. On Sunday, he'll have a good look at one of their most valuable trade chips.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE