Buyers beware: Decker's not elite

Eric Decker

Someday, maybe even years after he has signed his first fat contract as an NFL free agent, Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker will know exactly what Super Bowl XLVIII meant to his life.

There were several things that went wrong for Denver in that 43-8 blowout loss to Seattle, with Decker's disappearance ranking right near the top. Before that contest, he was primed to benefit from being the top receiver available on the open market. When it ended, the entire world could see that the expectations placed upon Decker in future years should be lowered quite a bit.

Decker didn't just hurt his stock by catching one pass for 6 yards in that game. He reminded everybody who witnessed that performance of why football evaluators make distinctions between No. 1 and No. 2 receivers.

The players who fall into the former category can dominate under a variety of circumstances. Those who wind up in the latter group look phenomenal until better cornerbacks and more focused defensive schemes expose them for who they really are.

Once Super Bowl XLVIII ended, we knew exactly where Decker stood in this discussion. Despite all his favorable qualities -- a 6-foot-3, 214-pound frame, respectable speed, dependable hands and eye-catching statistics (87 receptions, 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns last season) -- he's better off going to a team that knows exactly what it's getting once free agency begins.

Any franchise that thinks the Super Bowl performance wasn't a huge red flag is kidding itself. The minute Decker signs the biggest contract of his life in the coming weeks, it will be Exhibit A as to why he needs more help around him to thrive at this level.

The NFL Network already has reported that the Broncos don't view Decker as a No. 1 receiver (and it helps that they already have a point of reference in their top target, Demaryius Thomas). If the asking price for Decker runs too high, it's almost a given that Broncos general manager John Elway will wish him the best and let him walk.

There's a strong case to be made that Denver quarterback Peyton Manning helped elevate Decker's game over the past two seasons. The Broncos also have 14 other unrestricted free agents to consider, some of whom were just as critical to their success as Decker.

That isn't to say the 26-year-old Decker doesn't have his strengths. He has caught 172 passes over the past two seasons and scored 32 touchdowns since the 2011 season began. He's basically gone from being an unheralded third-round pick in the 2010 draft to a player who has improved with every season he's spent in Denver. There's something to be said for that type of development.

It's just that we've seen this movie before and it rarely ends well. The poster child for overrated free-agent wide receivers is former Dallas Cowboys star Alvin Harper, who signed a huge deal with Tampa Bay in 1995 and caught all of 67 passes for the remainder of his NFL career.

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