Before deciding whether the New York Giants should try to sign Eric Decker once free agency starts on the afternoon of March 11, determining if his skill set matches Big Blue’s need at the wide receiver position must be answered.
As it turns out, the soon-to-be 27-year-old is exactly what the Giants desire in a wideout, assuming the expected departure of unrestricted free agent Hakeem Nicks becomes a reality. However, obtaining his services for the 2014 season and well beyond is not in New York’s best interest, due to several key factors.
The Giants were 30th in the NFL in red-zone efficiency last season, according to TeamRankings.com, scoring touchdowns on only 47.2 percent of their trips. A main reason why was the inability of the offense to cross the goal line inside the opponents 20-yard line via the pass on a consistent basis.
Nicks should have been a formidable weapon in the red zone in 2013, given his physical 6’1”, 208-pound frame. However, he didn’t register a single touchdown on 11 red-zone targets (he failed to score from outside the red zone either).
Based on his production the last three seasons, this is exactly the area where Decker can help. He has 32 regular-season touchdowns since the start of the 2011 season. In 2013, he had seven red-zone scores on 23 targets.
Haters can bring up the fact that 24 of those 32 touchdowns came with Peyton Manning, probably the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history, throwing him the ball. They would be conveniently overlooking, though, the eight touchdowns he grabbed in 2011, on only 95 total targets, from the not-so-dynamic duo of Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.
|Eric Decker 2011-2013 Regular Season Statistics|
|Year||Receptions/Targets||Receiving Yards||Avg.||Touchdowns||1st Downs|
Evaluating Decker’s strengths, his success at hitting paydirt is not surprising. He stands 6’3” and weighs 214 pounds, but, more importantly, he plays to his size. He is a tough player who is willing to go over the middle and win 50-50 balls against smaller cornerbacks.
In addition, he still has enough speed and elusiveness to make big plays, as the 19 receptions of 20 or more yards last season indicates.
Also, unlike Nicks, Decker has been durable during his career and is currently riding a streak of 64 straight games played, playoffs included.
However, plenty of other teams want him, too, and it’s going to cost a lot of money to secure his services.
Let’s first tackle how much Decker should command in free agency. Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport recently wrote an excellent piece on Decker’s worth in the open market. He determined, based on recent contracts for No. 1-caliber wide receivers, that Decker will command a five- to six-year contract worth around $10.5 million per season, with roughly $20 million guaranteed.
Davenport’s article was published in early February, when the 2014 NFL salary cap was projected to be around $126 million. Now it is expected to be modestly higher, at somewhere between $132 and $133 million, according to Tom Pelissero of USA Today. This additional financial flexibility that teams have been afforded should see Decker now get at least $11 million per year in free agency.
Per OvertheCap.com, Big Blue will have over $19 million in cap space, based on a $133 million salary cap. This figure could easily be $10-$20 million higher once they cut players and restructure current contracts.
Therefore, the Giants should have roughly $30-$40 million to spend to retain their own free agents, draft choices and other teams’ free agents. So, in theory, it appears they’ll have enough to sign Decker and still address other needs.
But there are plenty of other franchises that want Decker catching passes and touchdowns for them in 2014, starting with his current team.
The Denver Broncos have about $19.44 million to spend based on the new projected cap figure, which is almost identical to the $19.29 million the Giants have in cap space. Denver does have 16 unrestricted free agents, including key players such as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Zane Beadles and Knowshon Moreno, to consider re-signing, so they have to be somewhat fiscally responsible.
Also, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, the Broncos view Decker as a No. 2 receiver, not a top wideout. If he gets the dollars worthy of the latter, Denver will probably let him walk.
Other than the Giants, that would leave teams like the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings as likely suitors, since they all have the money to offer Decker a lucrative contract, and a need for better production at the wide receiver position.
The Colts make some sense as a potential destination for the four-year veteran, considering they also have a ton of cap room. However, Indianapolis still has Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton under contract, so their money may be better spent addressing other positions.
And in the end, the Giants are better off letting Decker go to another team. While they can afford him, he will probably take up at least 25 percent of their available cap room for 2014. In addition, Cruz is in the midst of a $43 million deal that will count for nearly $7.5 million against the cap in 2014.
Do the Giants really want somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-$20 million invested in two wide receivers next season when they have so many other positions that need to be addressed?
The Giants should spend money retaining their own free agents, most notably middle linebacker Jon Beason, and fixing the offensive line. Getting a reliable running back and a cornerback would also be wise.
Attempting to secure an X receiver in the draft is more feasible and certainly more cost-effective. Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and USC’s Marqise Lee would be good choices in the first round, while Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews or Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin could be nice fits with the 43rd pick in round two.
Another, less glamorous option is to do nothing.
Let’s say, as a hypothetical, the Giants sign running back Ben Tate and guard Jon Asamoah in free agency, draft a quality center and guard to round out the offensive line and make dynamic North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron their first-round pick. All of sudden that is a pretty good offense which could get by at wide receiver with Cruz and Rueben Randle as starters, and Jerrel Jernigan filling the slot.
It would be a better unit with Decker in the mix, but the hidden word in salary cap is compromise. For the Giants this offseason, it will come in the form of not spending big money on a wide receiver.