The free-agent wide receiver class works as a metaphor for the position: soft. How weak? Its standouts include a former college quarterback (Julian Edelman) who emerged as a starting NFL receiver just last season and a Giants pass catcher (Haseem Nicks) who didn’t catch a single touchdown pass last season.
The offensive end market appears as bad as the defensive end market appears great. There’s no Dez Bryant, no Megatron, no Josh Gordon waiting to change jerseys.
The closest thing on the market, if you listen to pigskin pundits, is Eric Decker. The number one receiver on the free agent market isn’t even the number one receiver on his own team. Mike Martz, one of the best offensive minds of this coaching generation, said Monday on the NFL Network that Decker ranks as a number three receiver.
“I see him as a third receiver, to be honest with you,” Martz, a mentor to Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, opined. “You match him up one-on-one, you match him up with a good solid corner, he can disappear from a game. When you take him to another team and highlight him and they start rolling coverages, can he be successful? I don’t think so. He’s a good player. I think he’s a number two or number three. May the buyer beware here.”
He sure looked good with Peyton Manning throwing him passes. How will Decker rank with Geno Smith lining up behind center?
Decker reportedly visited with the Jets at their Florham Park, New Jersey facilities on Wednesday. Foreshadowing how he might fare with Geno Smith at quarterback comes from Decker’s initial years in Denver, when he had the likes of Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow passing him the ball. In 30 games over those two seasons, Decker compiled 718 yards and nine touchdown receptions. That’s not number-one receiver numbers for a single season, let alone over two campaigns.
But since Peyton Manning arrived in the Mile High City, Eric Decker has been a 1,000-plus yard receiver. Has Manning made him a better receiver or has Manning made him look like a better receiver? That’s the question general managers throughout the NFL are asking themselves today.
Dan Leberfeld, who covers the Jets through his Jets Confidential and the league through his “Press Coverage” program on Sirius XM’s NFL Channel, regards the fifth-year receiver as perhaps an important piece of the puzzle but not the one-player solution. “Eric Decker is a solid player, but he benefited a great deal from all the attention that DeMarius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas garnered from opposing defenses,” Leberfeld told Breitbart Sports. “If he goes somewhere else for big money, some might expect him to be a superstar, which he is not. He might be better off taking less money to stay with Denver, and be a complimentary player. A new team’s fans and media might expect him to dominate, and the expectations might be out of touch with reality. As Bill Parcells always said, ‘Know who you are.'”
Is Eric Decker the answer? For teams in the market for a solid pass catcher to compliment a number-one receiver, the answer may be “yes.” For franchises looking at Decker as the number-one receiver to be plucked from this year’s crop of free agents, they’ve not only come up with the wrong answer. They’re asking the wrong question.
The draft and trades may yield the next Keyshawn Johnson or Randy Moss. The 2014 free agent class surely won’t.