Who replaces Golden Tate? Look to 'Swiss army knife' TJ Jones

Did Eagles give up too much for Golden Tate? (1:35)

Tim Hasselbeck and John Fox break down the Eagles' trade for WR Golden Tate. (1:35)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Nevin Lawson found out from Don Muhlbach as he was walking into Pilates class. TJ Jones discovered it through the internet, and Glover Quin had somebody tell him Golden Tate was traded – and then called his now-former teammate for confirmation.

As news spread Tuesday afternoon among the Detroit Lions that their leading receiver was no longer on their roster, reactions ranged from the sadness of seeing a friend move on to surprise that the move was made to, hey, this is the NFL, anything can happen.

They expressed their emotions about the deal on Twitter and then explained it in more than limited characters Wednesday afternoon.

"First of all, that’s one of my good friends. Of course I’m going to react like that, man," safety Quandre Diggs said. "Somebody that I’ve been close to for about four years on the team. So it’s tough. I think it’s the first time since I’ve been here where something like that happened. It’s tough.

"Even though I was only here with Calvin [Johnson] for a year, when I seen him retire it was tough for me. Same reaction, you know. Like I said, first of all he’s a good person, great teammate, great friend of mine that we’ll still be tight, just like me and [Eric] Ebron, it doesn’t matter. That’s just kind of what my reaction was."

Diggs and other players acknowledged that the locker room would be different without Tate, one of the team leaders the past four-plus seasons. Most of Diggs’ surprise came from seeing a personal friend leave, not the business part of it.

Most players echoed his sentiment: It was emotional, but "business is business."

On the football side, the trade alters Detroit’s offense. Tate’s average of 5.9 receptions per game over his Lions career has to go somewhere. That doesn’t even include his overall targets (although he caught many of the passes thrown his way).

Kenny Golladay, who declined to talk with the media Wednesday, and Marvin Jones will both likely see an uptick in targets, as they should be on the field for most, if not all, two-receiver sets. On Wednesday, when Jones was asked about the 1,000-yard seasons both he and Tate had in 2017, he called what they did "special" and said that his running mate is "going to be missed."

Jones has confidence in the players who are going to be looked at to replace Tate -- TJ Jones and Brandon Powell. Powell is an unknown, undrafted this year out of Florida. He’s been active for one game in his career and saw primarily special-teams work as a returner. But he could be the Lions’ slot receiver of the future.

TJ Jones should see time now. The 26-year-old has only three catches for 36 yards this season but started six games when Golladay was injured in 2017, averaging 13.3 yards on 30 catches for 399 yards. He can play any of the three receiver spots and has a built-in rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford that could ease the transition.

"He’s had some great minutes for us over the years," Marvin Jones said. "Obviously he’s like our Swiss army knife. He knows all the plays. I think we just go there and keep doing what we’re doing."

For the Lions, that has been two receivers -- Tate and Golladay -- on pace for over 1,000 yards and Marvin Jones on pace for 885 yards. TJ Jones could slide into a bigger role and offer some production.

TJ Jones isn’t necessarily looking at it as an open opportunity, though. He knows there could be time split with Powell -- both figure to be active on game days as Powell might end up as the Lions’ returner -- and that leftover targets from Tate’s trade could get split among several players.

He’s not banking on what he did in the past, where he looked like an emerging player before a shoulder injury ended his 2017 season, eventually leading to a tendered offer from the Lions as a restricted free agent.

Coming back to the same offense in 2018 made understanding everything easier so he could focus on "being a complete player rather than ‘I’m pretty good at this, let me work on this some more and take a break on that.'" He was hesitant Wednesday to say where he’s gotten better than the last time people really saw him play, in part because he wasn’t totally sure. It’s just not how he trains.

"In no part of my game did I ever feel perfect," TJ Jones said. "So it’s a constant need to improve everything. Even the things I’m best at I still want to get better because there may be guys who are better than me at something, which means I can work on that.

"So at no point have I ever perfected anything in my craft, and I think it’s good because it gives me reason to want to keep improving."

He and the rest of the players who might replace Tate -- the receivers along with tight end Michael Roberts and running back Theo Riddick -- have either been in this position before or are young enough that this could be their opportunity to make a name in the NFL while filling the role of one of the most productive receivers in Lions history.

Pressure? Not really. TJ Jones said that "you can’t really put that added pressure on," because he and Tate are vastly different players with different attributes.

Roberts looks to the tale of Tom Brady when thinking about opportunity being available.

"We didn’t know who Tom Brady was before someone left or got injured," Roberts said. "So you never know, especially with the talent that we have, it definitely calls for someone to step up, some people to step up.

"Just time."