How Much Is Broncos' WR Eric Decker Really Worth in 2014 Free Agency?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 5, 2014

Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker (87) warms up before an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

With the 2013-14 NFL season now officially in the books, the attention of 31 NFL teams has turned to getting better so they can knock the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks off their perch.

For teams looking to improve at wide receiver, Eric Decker of the Denver Broncos probably represents the top option available via free agency.

However, just one year after Mike Wallace signed a $60 million contract with the Miami Dolphins only to post his second straight sub-1,000-yard season, many teams may be reluctant to pony up a lot of guaranteed money.

So which is it? Is Eric Decker's two straight years with over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns the sign of an elite receiver capable of anchoring a receiving corps?

Or, are Decker's numbers more a function of the arrival of quarterback Peyton Manning, a mirage of sorts that will cause some poor sap to overpay the 26-year-old?

Eric Decker 2013
Rec.YardsAvg.TDPFF Rank*
* Rank Among Wide Receivers at Pro Football Focus

One thing at least appears certain. The 26-year-old Decker, who reeled in 87 passes for a career-high 1,288 yards and 11 scores in 2013, will be allowed to at least test the waters when free agency opens next month:

Granted, this isn't to say that the Broncos' don't want Decker back:

In fact, Cecil Lammey of ESPN Denver recently tweeted that bringing Decker back was a big priority for the Broncos:

However, wanting to bring Decker back and being able to do so are two very different things.

According to spotrac (subscription required), the Broncos have about $12.4 million in projected salary cap space in 2014.

Unfortunately the team also has 15 other unrestricted free agents to sign besides Decker, including some players who were important pieces in the team's run to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Denver Broncos 2014 Free Agents
Eric DeckerWR
Knowshon MorenoRB
Zane BeadlesOG
Shaun PhillipsDE/OLB
Dominique Rodgers-CromartieCB
Wesley WoodyardMLB
All are UFA

Now, the Broncos will no doubt move some money around in an effort to eke out some more cap space. It's an annual rite in the NFL.

With that said though, if Decker wants top wideout money (or if another NFL team is willing to pay it), then the Broncos may be up the proverbial creek.

Recent Wide Receiver Contracts
P. HarvinSEA6$67.5$11.25$25.5$11
M. WallaceMIA5$60.0$12.0$30.0$11
D. BoweKC5$56.0$11.2$26.0$15
G. JenningsMIN5$45.0$9.0$17.8$10
V. JacksonTB5$55.6$11.2$26.0$2
P. GarconWAS5$42.5$8.5$20.5$11
All amounts in millions

From looking at that table, a couple of things become clear.

First, relatively speaking, the Washington Redskins got a smoking deal when they signed Pierre Garcon in free agency two years ago.

Second, the average annual sticker price for the wideouts on that list is just over $10.5 million a season, which is going to be pushing it and then some where Denver's budget is concerned.

So, let's use that $10.5 million per season as the "jumping off" point for a hypothetical Decker deal.

The question then becomes simple: Is Eric Decker "worth" $10.5 million a season over five or six years, with around $20 million in guarantees and a signing bonus in the low double-digits?

Well, if his production relative to the other players on this list is any indication, then the answer is yes.

Graph Designed by Author

Over the past two years, Decker's 172 receptions and 24 touchdowns lead all the wideouts who have recently penned fat contracts. His 2,352 receiving yards and 13.7 yards per catch over that span trails only Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson.

Well that's that then. Surely if those other players are worth that scratch, then Decker is as well, especially given his recent productivity and the fact he's just entering the prime of his career.

If only it were that simple.

Decker may have produced like a WR1 these past two years, and he may desire to be compensated like a WR1.

That doesn't change the fact that, to this point in his career, Decker has never been a WR1.

Eric Decker vs. Demaryius Thomas 2012-2013
Since Peyton Manning's Arrival

It's foolish to consider Decker's resume without adding context. In each of the past two years, Decker has been out-performed by batterymate Demaryius Thomas (who is on a collision course with his own huge payday next year).

The addition of Wes Welker and the emergence of tight end Julius Thomas in 2013 gave the Broncos an embarrassment of riches in the passing game.

Rumor is their quarterback is pretty good too. Or was, anyway, until last Sunday.

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

What? Too soon?

This isn't to take anything away from Decker's play over the past two seasons. However, just looking at his raw numbers in a vacuum doesn't take the whole picture into account.

Constant single coverage is a huge caveat. So is having a five-time NFL MVP at quarterback.

Both have to be considered when judging Eric Decker's "value."

Decker's a good receiver. A very good one in fact. He's a solid route-runner, and his sure hands and 6'3" frame makes him a very dangerous player in the red zone.

However, Decker doesn't have great speed. This isn't to say Decker isn't capable of hurting teams deep, but more often than not long plays were borne of busted coverage or facing second cornerbacks, not Decker's ability to blow past a cornerback.

It's fair to be concerned about what might happen to Decker's numbers were he to be the focal point of a passing game (and in turn an opposing defense's attention).

Decker's vanishing act in the Super Bowl didn't help.

Eric Decker Super Bowl XLVIII
Thrown AtRec.YardsAvg.TD

Now, not every team in the NFL has a Richard Sherman around, and it's important not to overreact about one game. On the other hand, even though the Broncos were forced to throw the ball constantly in the Super Bowl, Sherman erased Decker from the field.

One game may not be the whole story, but the Super Bowl underscored something we sort of already knew about Eric Decker.

As a No. 1 wide receiver, Decker makes for a great No. 2.

Once again, that isn't a shot at Decker. He's an excellent football player. In fact, it wouldn't be any real stretch to call Decker the NFL's best player at his position.

Assuming that position is No. 2 receiver.

NFL's Highest Paid Secondary WRs
PlayerTeamAverage Annual Salary
Sidney RiceSEA$8.2 million
Mike WilliamsTB$7.8 million
Miles AustinDAL$7.7 million
Roddy WhiteATL$7.1 million
Per spotrac

If there's an NFL team out there with plenty of cap space and an established No. 1, that would (in theory) present the best fit for Decker.

Never said he'd like it.

Frankly, if the only interest in Decker is as a second wideout, with an average salary to match, that's the dream scenario for Denver. The Broncos could probably hang in the bidding there, and if the money isn't much different, why leave a Super Bowl contender for say, Cleveland?

However, there are also a few NFL teams (The Jets, Raiders and Jaguars) who have plenty of cap space and a dire need at the position.

If those teams get froggy and jump the gun a la the Dolphins last year, signing Decker to a mega-deal early in free agency, then it's a move both player and team will come to regret.

Because Eric Decker just doesn't have the wheels or athleticism to carry a passing offense on his own. He's a fantastic complementary receiver, but he just isn't a centerpiece.

Nor should he be paid like one.


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