Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard some buzzing from Rams fans and media regarding the potential signing of Broncos wide receiver and free-agent-to-be Eric Decker.
In a vacuum, the argument makes sense. Decker has proven the following:
- He can produce big numbers in the right setting.
- He’s very productive on deep passes of more than 20 yards.
- He’s a surprisingly productive slot receiver. Pro Football Focus rates him as having the best catch percentage among all NFL receivers that took at least 50 percent of their snaps in the slot. (Subscription required.)
Through his first four seasons, Decker has put up the following numbers:
- 2010: 140 offensive snaps, 6 catches, 106 yards, one touchdown, +0.5 Pro Football Focus cumulative rating
- 2011: 996 snaps, 44 catches, 612 yards, 8 TDs, -4.6 PFF rating
Then Peyton Manning comes to town.
- 2012: 1,166 snaps, 85 catches, 1,064 yards, 13 TDs, +9.3 PFF rating
- 2013: 1,288 snaps, 87 catches, 1,288 yards, 11 TDs, +16.7 PFF rating
On paper, Decker seems like quite the free agent prize if Denver lets him hit the open market and will likely command a multi-year contract that pays him around $10 million annually. (Decker re-signing with the Broncos seems less and less likely.) The former third-round pick has steadily developed over his first four seasons and has grown into – if not an elite receiver – a very solid starter who could be, at minimum, the no. 2 receiver on any team in the NFL.
But here’s the reality: Big-splash free agent wide receivers rarely live up to the hype or the money - especially if the place they’re going involves a downgrade at quarterback. And even Sam Bradford’s closest family and friends have to admit that switching from Manning to Bradford – not to mention the Broncos’ pass-happy offense to the Rams’ run-heavy offense – would be a significant downgrade for Decker.
Sorry to keep smashing you over the head with bulletpoints, but let’s take a look at just the past two years of big-money free agent wide receivers switching teams and see how they worked out. (If I left someone out, my apologies.)
- 2012: TB signs Vincent Jackson: 5 yrs, $55.6 million ($26m guaranteed)
- 2012: SD signs Robert Meachem: 4 yrs, $25.9 million ($14m guaranteed)
- 2012: WAS signs Pierre Garcon: 5 yrs, $42.5 million ($13.1m guaranteed)
- 2012: JAX signs Laurent Robinson: 5 yrs, $32.5 million ($14m guaranteed)
- 2013: MIN signs Greg Jennings: 5 yrs, $45 million ($17.8m guaranteed)
- 2013: MIA signs Mike Wallace: 5 yrs, $60 million ($27m guaranteed)
- 2013: NE signs Danny Amendola: 5 yrs, $28 million ($10m guaranteed)
- 2013: SEA signs Percy Harvin: 6 yrs, $64.2 million ($14.5m guaranteed)
That list alone should make anyone even remotely affiliated with the Rams think twice – nay, thrice – about the idea of signing Decker. And that’s only examples from the past two years!
Robinson and Meachem both were each cut after the first year of their deals. Their combined stats for their ill-fated teams: 38 catches, 459 yards and no touchdowns. That’s right, a combined $28 million in guaranteed money bought the Chargers and Jags zero touchdowns. Meachem has been re-signed by his original team, the Saints. Robinson is out of football due to recurring concussion issues.
The rest of the list ain’t great either. Jennings (68 catches, 804 yards, 4 TDs) and Wallace (73 catches, 930 yards, 5 TDs) were decent in their first years but still below their standard production. Certainly not worth their lofty contract status by any means.
Amendola was often injured yet again – cut to Rams fans mock-gasping – throughout 2013 and might get cut loose after just one year.
Garcon has been mostly worth the money, although he’s had injury woes through much of his time in Washington. The only guy who has been truly worth the money has been Vincent Jackson, who has ranked near the top of all relevant statistical categories for receivers in his two years in Tampa Bay.
But guess what? Tampa Bay is a combined 10-22 since Jackson’s arrival. Matter of fact, all of the teams listed above were pretty bad during the players’ tenure there except for Garcon’s 2012 Redskins (fluke playoff appearance) and Amendola’s 2013 Pats (they’re perennial contenders anyway).
Harvin is the only guy on that list who ended up being the final piece to the Super Bowl puzzle. And you can make the case that even if Harvin doesn’t play another game, he’ll end up being worth the money for the Seahawks because of his Super Bowl performance from a week ago. Still, he caught just one pass all season before that game in what was a hellish, injury-plagued season. And now the Seahawks are on the hook for a lot of money over the next few years. Just sayin’.
If I had more time, I would’ve brought up other recent big-money free agent wide receiver disasters such as Seattle signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Washington signing Brandon Lloyd or – brace yourself – St. Louis signing Drew Bennett back in 2007.
You forgot about Bennett, didn’t you? Let me remind you. The Rams were about to lose Kevin Curtis to free agency and were left with an aging Isaac Bruce and a still-productive-yet-also-aging Torry Holt as their two receivers. St. Louis wanted to make a splash and sign a big body who could restore the Rams offense to prominence, so they handed Bennett a six-year, $30 million contract with $10 million in guaranteed money.
Bennett had been pretty productive throughout his career, with 2004 serving as his breakout party. Despite not really getting near his 2004 numbers (1,247 yards and 11 TDs) in the next two seasons, the Rams paid Bennett big money anyway.
Bennett was a massive disappointment in 2007, catching just 33 balls for 375 yards and three touchdowns. In 2008, Bennett broke his leg in the first game. He was released at the end of the season and never played in the NFL again.
Will Decker end up being yet another cautionary tale for teams that spend big money on free agent wide receivers? There’s no way to say for sure. But if you’re Les Snead, would you bet your future on Decker?