By Jason Keidel
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While the Jets have been glacial in improving their squad, they’ve been virtual Visigoths when it comes to cutting players and slashing payroll. Particularly vets, whose age, wage and any decay make them most expendable.
Except Eric Decker, who somehow survived the salary bloodletting. At least until now. While watching his gridiron brothers fall like trees in this blizzard, like his former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and running mate Brandon Marshall, he had to wonder what the hell happened. And why.
Just 18 months ago, the Jets seemed poised for playoff football. Fitzpatrick found his game, his brain and his arm. Marshall was the perfect hybrid of size, hands and toughness. And Decker was the perfect complement to Marshall.
In one quick year, the Jets performed one quick turnaround. If not for a foul fourth quarter in Buffalo in the 2015 finale, the Jets would have wound up 11-5 and in the AFC playoffs. The irony, of course, is that Gang Green’s season ended on a pass from Fitzpatrick to Decker. But now, Decker has nothing left. Well, no one left. Not along the skeleton crew the Jets now call a football club.
Somehow, during the Jets’ epic purge of players, Decker became the last soldier standing in the debris.
Where is Decker now? Where does he stand? The most recent reports have the Jets likely releasing him once he’s medically cleared to play after undergoing shoulder and hip surgeries. Which is always one of those haunting dynamics and wicked contradictions of pro football. In most professions, when an employee heals up and is ready to perform, the employer puts him to work. Not in the twisted, inverted world of the NFL, where a clean bill of health might mean a clear path to cutting the player.
Just Google “Jets offseason moves,” and you’ll find a few autopsies of this most frigid winter. ESPN shows the list of clever maneuvers, the grandest of which is “the signing of PK Chandler Catanzaro.” Needed the defibrillator after that personnel coup.
Look down the list of articles produced by Google, and next you see CBSSports.com, which didn’t even let you wait to thumb through the 32 NFL clubs. The headline beams with “Jets get an F” for their winter of discontent.
At the risk of sounding like a shill, CBS is hardly known for shock-jock journalism. Much better known for its even-handed reportage, not even CBS can resist a gratuitous backhand of the Jets, who are a kind of inverted aphrodisiac, the opposite of gridiron Viagra.
And they nailed it. After asserting the Jets spent the first few days watching from the safest distance, CBS mentioned some marginal signings (like Catanzaro and and offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum). The epitaph read accordingly: “That’s not much. This is a team that is going in the wrong direction and clearly is ready for a major rebuild.” Then it concluded with the yearly refrain for Gang Green devotees: “It’s going to be a long year if you are a Jets fan.”
Conclusion? “Grade: F. They are clearly not interested in short-term players. They did little to help their team.”
When abject, objective and subjective metrics merge into one, and a Gang Green river runs through it. With Erick Decker, a paddle and a kayak rowing up poop’s creek.
And like many of his departed brethren — Fitzpatrick, Marshall, Nick Mangold, etc. — Decker is now on the wrong side of 30. (He turns 30 Wednesday, in fact.) And his speed was never that special — he posted a 4.54 mark in the 40-yard dash at the 2010 NFL Combine, and his longest catch over the last two years is 35 yards. If released, he could find his list of NFL suitors shrinking. Perhaps he could be a Wes Welker type, a specialist, a last spoke in an otherwise robust offensive wheel.
“Right now, Eric is under contract,” Jets general manager Mike Macagnan told the Daily News. “Our goal is to get him healthy and then kind of evaluate how he comes back off the injuries and go from there.” These are the opaque and ominous words often spoken by an NFL general manager. Translation? We plan to whack him the moment a doctor winks our way.
Not only is Decker perilously mature for an NFL wideout, but cutting him would save the Jets $5.75 million in salary, or gain the equivalent in cap space, depending on your preferred vernacular. That’s a low number for someone who caught 80 passes, gained over 1,000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. But that was in 2015, when he was 28, Before the Amish Rifle realized he was just Ryan Fitzpatrick and the whole thing collapsed.
Or Decker could retire. His high cheekbones, eternal 5 o’clock shadow and celebrity wife are all big-time TV bona fides. In other words, Decker won’t suffer if he doesn’t catch another pass. A gaggle of cable execs will speed-dial him the moment he retires, shoving six-figure studio analyst deals in his face.
But if Decker is like any other football player, he wants to play. If Tom Brady still has the itch to throw some TDs at 40, with a fistful of Super Bowl rings, then it’s quite likely Decker would like to catch a few of them.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel