NFL free agency 2014: Golden Tate could correct past mistake

Jamie Squire

Carolina messed up four years ago, but perhaps now is the time to make up for it.

Revisiting the 2010 draft from the Panthers' perspective is ugly. Sure it gave the team Greg Hardy, which is a win on its own but "the luck of the Irish" wasn't in Charlotte four years ago. Now there's a chance to correct that mistake and Golden Tate could be precisely what the team needs.

Almost everyone wanted Tate when the No. 48 pick came. He was an established starter at Notre Dame with a game similar to Steve Smith's. Fans hopes that he would be the Panthers' savior at wide receiver, someone who could bridge the gap between Smith and the future, even if the quarterback wasn't in place.

Carolina selected Jimmy Clausen.

It's easy to go back and bash the Clausen pick, but it was a calculated risk. Teams around the league were trying to decode whether the Irish's offensive success was a product of the man under center or a great host of weapons. The latter was true. Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph and Tate are all flourishing in the NFL, while Clausen's inability to handle pressure became his downfall.

Tate needed time to incubate in the pros and arrived in 2013 to become the Seattle Seahawks best receiving weapon. He's has big play potential with the ball in his hands, can gain ample yardage through YAC and has the ability to contribute on special teams. Tate is an upgraded, better version of Ted Ginn that should be a player Dave Gettleman is interested in, if the price is right.

This could be the time the Panthers can correct a four-year-old mistake.

It's easy to like a lot about Tate's game, but the way he contributed in 2013 is hand-picked for the Panthers offense. There were times he caught deep passes, but he was far better as an elusive short-yardage receiver who gained a lot after the catch. Tate gained 530 of his 959 total yards in YAC, according to Pro Football Focus. He also accounted for 24 missed tackles, defenders who caught nothing but air trying to make a play while only dropping four passes.

These numbers are good, really good. Hold him against Steve Smith in 2013 and there is no comparison. Tate has more total yards, more YAC, more missed tackles and fewer dropped passes. That might not move the needle given Smitty's struggles, but dig a little deeper and it makes perfect sense.

Nobody is saying "Golden Tate is Steve Smith," the Seattle receiver will never hit the marks Smith did in his heyday in Carolina, but he is a significant upgrade over the current iteration of the Panthers' legend. Tate isn't the same player, though his style is similar. This means Carolina could conceivably sign Tate, move Smith to the slot and not miss a beat on offense. Round out the receiving unit with a rookie and things are good to go.

Is it likely this happens? Probably not. Money is hard to come by and if the Panthers retain Ginn there wont be the money for another receiver. That said, it's something to think about. Tate is young, hitting his prime and would work in this offense. It's not often a team gets to correct a past misstep, but this could be one.

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