Finally, Monday afternoon brought along the news of an end to Eric Decker’s time with the New York Jets. The veteran receiver was released after the team failed to reach a trade agreement with any team after, shockingly, no one would trade for a player that the Jets said they would release if they couldn’t find a trade partner.
Trade talks for Decker between the Ravens and Jets dissolved when Baltimore decided to sign another recently released wide receiver in Jeremy Maclin.
But with Decker getting released, his name will become a hot commodity among teams looking to upgrade their receiving corps this late into the offseason. Lions fans aren’t saved from that interest, with over 73 percent of voters saying the team should throw their hat in the ring when it comes to acquiring Decker.
The Lions don’t have a need for Decker, or even a wide receiver for that matter.
Another Decker with a shoulder injury
Do we really hate ourselves that much?
Eric Decker’s season in 2016 was cut short due to a torn rotator cuff, an injury which he underwent surgery for and is expected to be ready by season’s start after participating in organized team activities with the Jets.
In addition to the work done on his shoulder, Decker also underwent surgery for an ailment to his hip. After turning 30 this past March, it’s tough to make an investment in a player who might be looking to sign one last deal that could net him a good chunk of change before retirement.
While the Lions have cap space, around $10.4 million to put it in a ballpark, this should remain a rainy day fund and spent only in the case of one of two things happening: inking Matthew Stafford to a contract extension to lighten the load of his cap hit down the road, or using a portion of it in-season to deal with injuries. Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with rolling that cap space over into next season.
Decker’s “perfect fit” in a spot already occupied with options
Last week, Chris Simms, former Tampa Buccaneers quarterback and tattoo buddy of Kyle Shanahan, posited how Decker would be a “perfect fit” for the Detroit Lions.
Simms main points gravitate around the lack of depth behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr., asking what the team would do if one of those players were to go down and answering his question like nearly every other team in the NFL would if they suffered an injury to one of their top two receiving threats: “The offense would be seriously hampered.”
He also cites Decker’s ability to play outside, which isn’t where he’s at his most effective, nor a position where he plays the majority of the time: Out of 567 routes ran in 2015, 387 of those started from the slot. The difference between his ability to line up on the outside—pre-injury mind you—is pretty negligible if it’s in comparison to Jones Jr.
Decker also finished 2015 with 56 receptions from the slot, which, according to Pro Football Focus, was the fifth-most when lined up at that position. Decker’s seven touchdowns on routes run out of the slot in 2015 also ranked third in the NFL.
Give the players a chance to play
It’s been well-documented how often the Lions line up in three-wideout formations—the fourth-highest mark in the NFL in 2016 with 732 snaps—and it’s important they find the right mix of receivers considering they lost a key cog in their machine.
Their most productive wide receiver on third down and in the red zone, Anquan Boldin, isn’t currently a part of the Lions plans for 2017, so the team was proactive, adding Northern Illinois wideout Kenny Golladay in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. In addition to him, the Lions also picked up tight end Michael Roberts from Toledo, a player who figures to be a magnet for the football once inside the 20-yard line.
Adding Decker would certainly infringe on Golladay’s playing time, and while it’s best to temper the rave reviews he received during OTAs, he also seems ready to contribute from day one as a third receiver. If he isn’t, there are other players the Lions already have in-house to alleviate the pressure.
Eric Ebron and Golden Tate seem to be the obvious players to fill that role the sure-handed Boldin occupied a season ago, but there are other players itching for an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of making the cut in Jared Abbrederis, Jace Billingsley and TJ Jones. Abbrederis has done enough during OTAs to at least instill some confidence that he could be a serviceable option.
When it comes down to it, sure, adding pre-2016 Eric Decker would certainly upgrade and bolster the talent among Detroit’s receiving depth chart. If his hip and shoulder are healthy, he’s going to be a useful asset to the team he eventually signs with, but the Lions have other options that need the opportunity to play.
Detroit has to make decisions about players currently on their roster like TJ Jones and Jared Abbrederis—sooner rather than later. Jace Billingsley, if he doesn’t make the 53-man cut, is a player I could likely see getting poached from their practiced squad if he even makes it there in the first place. Golladay’s development would absolutely be stunted should the Lions add Decker, or even if they decided to bring back Boldin at this point.
In-game reps are something that can’t be replicated, and the depth many Lions fans are interested in seeing shake out at wide receiver during training camp wouldn’t be realized with the addition of Decker—and also shouldn’t come at the expense of the team’s salary cap moving forward.