The New York Jets know the best way to help young quarterback Geno Smith improve is to also improve the talent around him.
They took the first step in that process on Wednesday night, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Jets are giving former Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker a five-year, $36.25 million deal ($7.25 million per year) with $15 million in guaranteed money.
In his career, Decker has not been a game-changing receiver, and the money in his deal reflects that. With Demaryius Thomas lining up opposite Decker, the better cornerback and the safety help usually went to the other side of the field. With the attention off him and with Peyton Manning throwing the ball, it would be easy to think that Decker reached his ceiling as a No. 2 receiver in Denver.
Decker immediately becomes the top receiver in the Jets offense—truth be told, it didn't really have one before. Santonio Holmes was a salary-cap cut prior to the start of the league year. Stephen Hill, drafted in the second round in 2012, has developed much slower than hoped. Jeremy Kerley is a nice slot option, but he cannot—and should not have to—shoulder the burden of the passing game.
|Jets' 2014 wide receivers, in 2013|
|Source: Pro Football Focus|
The question shouldn't be whether Decker can be a No. 1 receiver. He is on the verge of that status now, and with another season or two like his last two in Denver, it will be hard to hold him out of that conversation.
As a player, Decker has all the classic tools of a boundary "X" receiver. His combination of size (6'3", 214 lbs), above-average speed, quickness, sure hands and precise route running makes him one of the more versatile boundary threats in the game. He doesn't have elite speed, which leads some to believe he's best suited as a "Z" receiver, running shorter patterns on the outside and getting yards after the catch.
Regardless of his distinction as a No. 1 or 2, an "X" or "Z," the real question should be whether the Jets can continue to add pieces to their offense. None of it matters if scheming against the Jets offense simply turns into a game of "keep away from Decker."
Decker and Kerley are a good starting point, but the Jets need to add at least one more wide receiver and a tight end before this offense will be complete. There are still plenty of wide receivers left on the open market, including Emmanuel Sanders and Julian Edelman. If the Jets want to do a little addition by subtraction, they could dip into the New England Patriots' well and go after Julian Edelman.
|Top remaining free-agent wide receivers|
|Source: Pro Football Focus|
If the Jets add either of these receivers, each of whom had over 700 receiving yards and five touchdowns, their offense would be nearly complete.
Another free agent option is James Jones, who Joe Caporoso of TurnOnTheJets.com says would bring credibility to the Jets' receiving corps:
Jones would immediately step into the Jets starting lineup and provide a credible, competent threat predominantly at split end and bring a big play element that the offense has sorely been lacking. The drops and knee injury are concerning but Jones is a proven, productive player and outside of Golden Tate, is arguably the top addition the Jets can make at the position.
Neither Decker nor Jones is a "true" No. 1 receiver, but the combination of the two on opposite ends of the field would give the Jets two solid outside-the-numbers threats.
A "true" No. 1 receiver is less necessary in a West Coast offense like the one employed by Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. The system can call for any receiver to act as the first read on any given play, and sometimes different receivers will be the first read even in the same play run twice in a game.
All that being said, free agency isn't the only option. There are plenty of options available in the draft, and the Jets met with Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and USC wide receiver Marqise Lee at the scouting combine.
There's plenty of work to be done, but there are plenty of opportunities left to do it. The Jets had to get started somewhere, and signing Decker is a good launching-off point for the rebuilding of their wide receiver corps.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.