Eric Decker may have been the top free-agent wide receiver this year, but he was hardly respected as much as his numbers suggested he would be. To many, Decker was a mere product of the Peyton Manning machine that could have operated with field interns lined up at wide receiver.
Even Decker himself admits the immense impact Manning had on his last two seasons in Denver. "Peyton Manning made my job so much easier," Decker told Bleacher Report. "The guy was the ultimate at preparing, always called the right plays to allow us to work in one-on-one coverage."
Still, 1,288 yards is more than just being a product of a system. After all, there have been plenty of players to play with Manning and accomplish much less.
At the end of the day, receivers still need to get open, catch the ball and bail their quarterback out from time to time. The symbiotic relationship between Manning and Decker help each player in a much more equal ratio than most believe.
"You don't just get open by how the quarterback throws," Decker said. "You have to make the catch. It was a really good partnership."
The partnership between Decker and Manning produced some great moments that got the Broncos one win away from their third Super Bowl trophy. Decker is asking fans to spread their own ridiculous moments with the Ruffles #RoughLife campaign, using the hashtag to interact and spread their stories.
“Were trying to celebrate those ridiculous moments, asking fans to tweet their ridiculous moments using the hashtag #RoughLife to win prizes and be very interactive. It’s a fun campaign,” explains Decker.
As much as Decker flourished with Manning in 2012 and 2013, he has the other extreme of the quarterback spectrum when he worked with Tim Tebow for the bulk of the 2011 season. To Decker, at the end of the day, receiver fundamentals will prevail over the long term:
"You've got to be able to get off the line of scrimmage, run good routes, catch the ball in traffic and run after the catch. There are fundamentals you have to be good at."
"Building a relationship with a quarterback just makes that easier."
In a new city on the opposite side of the country, Decker will face a new challenge of building a rapport with Geno Smith and Michael Vick—two quarterbacks that will fit somewhere between the two extremes of Tebow and Manning.
Decker may be the Jets' top wide receiver, but he sees himself as a part of the solution rather than being some type of savior. "With the skill set that Geno Smith and Michael Vick have, it allows us to be an explosive team. [Add in] Chris Johnson, Jacoby Ford, both fast guys on our offense. What we got to do is do our job and the rest will take care of itself."
Decker may be a part of the solution, but it remains to be seen what specific part that is. Priding himself on versatility, Decker understands the added value of being able to play the X, Z, or Y (slot) positions to give the team as much flexibility as possible.
"I definitely pride myself in being versatile. The more positions you know, the harder is for them to kick you off." Although with $15 million in guaranteed money coming his way, getting kicked off the squad is the least of Decker's worries.
If the Jets are as good offensively as Decker believes they can be, it would be the first time in a long time that gang green fields an offense that is widely respected around the league. Many receivers, particularly those of Decker's caliber, may have been scared away of joining a Jets team that as so starved for talent at the skill positions.
For Decker, however, it was the plan John Idzik had in place and the attitude of head coach Rex Ryan that sold him on the idea of being the new top receiver in New York.
"John [Idzik] came from Seattle, who just won the championship. He knows how to craft that mold that knows how to win football games—guys that are hungry. Geno Smith has a lot of potential; Michael Vick has done a lot of good things in this league. Across the board, there are a lot of guys that have had success."
"We all know New York has a great defense. We just got to complement it with good offense."
Seeds of Decker coming to the Jets were planted as early as Super Bowl week. The Denver Broncos used the Jets' impressive practice facility to prepare for the big game. The state-of-the-art facilities indicated to Decker that this is an organization that spares no expense to win.
"It was definitely an added bonus," Decker said of getting a peek at the Jets' facility in late January. It is, by far, the nicest facility I've ever seen. The more you understand the importance of taking care of yourself physically, [you appreciate that] they have everything you can imagine you need to recover from games and [get proper] nutrition."
To the point, Decker has followed his heart to make the right decisions and reach the successes he has seen—going so far to find green pastures in industrial, smoky, tan line-painted New Jersey. There is a "greener" vibe around New Jersey than he once believed, "a lot of country in the Florham Park area—I was surprised how beautiful it is."
Decker may have found a new home in the rolling hills of suburban New Jersey, but he appreciates how hard he worked to get the second contract so many players fail to achieve.
Looking back, Decker would tell his younger self to not "take anything for granted. You got to be consistent in this league. You're only as good as your last play, making sure that you stay hungry."
With a brand new team at the young age of 27, Decker has plenty of reason to stay hungry and carve out his own lasting legacy in the NFL.
“Everything always happens for a reason,” Decker says as he reflects on his career decisions. “I feel like I’ve done things the way I wanted them done. I have no regrets.”
Following his instincts is what led to sign on with a new team does not even have a clear starting quarterback—a decision that will define his career and his character more than any stat could portray.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.