The New England Patriots currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the offseason, we take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s news wide receivers.
Name: Eric Decker
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 81
Opening day age: 31
Size: 6’3, 215 lbs.
2017 review: After a shoulder injury limited him to just three games and nine pass receptions in 2016, the New York Jets decided to let Eric Decker go in June 2017. It did not take long for him to find a new home, however, as the Tennessee Titans signed Decker to a one-year, $3.85 million contract just six days after his release. The deal proved to be a good one for the Titans, as the veteran became one of the team’s most productive pass catchers.
Playing 71.7% of Tennessee’s offensive snaps (733 of 1,022), Decker finished the season second on the squad with 54 catches and third with 563 receiving yards. He also caught one touchdown and ran one kickoff back for 22 yards. While Decker failed to produce statistics similar to the ones he had prior to 2016’s season-ending injury, he was still a reliable target that quickly earned quarterback Marcus Mariota’s trust.
The postseason was more of the same for the eight-year veteran: serving as the Titans’ rotational number two/three wide receiver option, Decker played a combined 110 offensive snaps (of 137; 80.3%) during the team’s two playoff contests. He finished with eight total receptions for 106 yards and caught what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in the wild card game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Decker certainly had his moments during the 2017 season, and was a productive pass catcher coming off major injury. However, he also failed to live up to his price tag, displayed inconsistent hands at times, and was unable to consistently establish himself as a number two wide receiver for the Titans. As a result, Tennessee decided not to bring Decker back after his contract had expired in March.
2018 preview: As quickly as his free agency experience was over in 2017, as long it took Decker to get off the open market this year. After the Titans decided not to bring him back, he remained unsigned for almost five months before the Patriots added him on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The deal gives the 31-year old a chance to compete for a roster spot in New England but does not guarantee him one: Decker has to earn his spot on the team.
So far, he has shown little in his quest for making the cut. Decker has been mostly disappointing in practice so far – he made some solid plays but struggled mightily with drops – and saw only limited exposure during the first two preseason games: playing a combined 22 snaps over the last two weeks, he did not catch a pass. The third preseason contest will therefore be a big one for Decker.
If he cannot hit the rotation and develop some chemistry with Tom Brady, his tenure in New England might come to a quick end again. So far, Decker appears to be headed down this road – but there are still two weeks left for him to prove his worth and show that he can be a valuable depth piece in an offense that seemingly lacks just that at the moment.