It is a story as old as time in professional sports. The supporting player on a winning team chases the dollars and promise of a bigger role to a less successful team and comes to regret it.
Eric Decker acted like a professional in his first season as a Jet. He could be forgiven, though, for wondering whether he made the decision going from catching passes from Peyton Manning on a contender to catching passes from Geno Smith on the 2014 Jets.
Decker was not the biggest name John Idzik acquired from another team, but he was probably the best player. His 72 catches, 962 yards, and 5 touchdowns all led the team by wide margins. It was not necessarily a consistent season from Decker. Much of that production came from two games in December when the Jets were playing out the string. I'm still giving the guy credit. Putting up those numbers over the course of 15 games in any context with the type of quarterback play the Jets got is pretty good.
How would one have described Decker as a receiver entering the season? I would have said he was a great route runner. He knows how to set cornerbacks up and make moves past them. He's big and physical. He has adequate but not great speed, and he drops too many passes. After the 2014 season, I would probably describe Decker the same way.
He seemed to catch a lot of criticism from some quarters during the season, but Decker was miscast by the Jets. He's a quality receiver. He shouldn't be THE GUY on an offense, though. I don't care for arbitrary titles like "true number 1," "1-B," or "2-A." They oversimplify things in an NFL where roles are becoming increasingly diverse. I don't think Decker is the kind of player an offense should run through, though. Dez Bryant forces a defense to change the way it approaches a game. Even when he isn't getting the ball a defense has to dedicate extra resources to stopping him, and Bryant will still get his even when the defense is doing everything in its power to take him away.
Decker is not that type of player, and both the inactivity in free agency and the inability to land a quality receiver from the 2014 Draft class put the Jets into a position where Decker had to be that guy. Even worse, Decker had to play through injuries early in the year instead of resting and getting better. A compromised Decker was just that much better than anything else the Jets had.
While Decker might not be a gamebreaker, he is a quality starter on an offense that has far too few of them. If the offense had more players of his caliber, it would not have looked like such a mess. Hopefully the Jets can add some more quality pieces.