FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As Eric Decker pondered his future this past spring, he held out hope that he could find his way to the New England Patriots.

“This is quite an opportunity,” Decker said after practice earlier this week. “It’s a place, really all offseason, that I would have loved to end up. I’m kind of happy it worked out the way it did.”

The Patriots plucked Decker off the unemployment line two days after they released Jordan Matthews, whose chances of making the team were derailed by a hamstring injury. Like Matthews, Decker has ideal size at 6-foot-3, 214 pounds. Like Matthews, Decker has experience lining up at several positions. He took 51 percent of his snaps from the slot a year ago, and was utilized in that spot during practice.

It’s too early to know what Decker’s role with the Patriots will entail, but this much is clear: If any off-the-street receiver is equipped to handle the transition to the Patriots’ complex offense, it’s Decker.

He was drafted by Josh McDaniels’ Broncos in 2010, and spent his rookie season acquiring knowledge of McDaniels’ system.

“He’s a smart guy,” said Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. “I know he has recall from some of the things that we do that Josh did at Denver that are carryover. ”


Decker went as far to say that McDaniels was “probably the smartest football coach” he’s ever had.

“The guy knows his X’s and O’s, (he’s) good with relationships, good as far as getting things going offensively, so it’s been fun being back with him,” Decker said.

Decker was one of Peyton Manning’s go-to receivers in Denver, racking up 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns during the Broncos’ record-breaking 2012 and 2013 seasons. The experience with Manning, whose legendary attention to detail is rivaled only by Tom Brady, should help prepare Decker.

“(The Patriots) have played a lot of football and they understand how to win, what the formula is, and Peyton’s the same way,” Decker said. “I took a lot of just the habits, you know how he came to work, how he took care of himself physically, the way he watched tape, the way he practiced, the extra work he put in. Those things that translate over to Sunday and I believe Tom’s the same way.”

On Decker’s first day, he and Brady chatted for several minutes as the rest of the team took part in special teams drills. They had just finished up a side session with other key pass-catchers – tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back James White among them – when Brady pulled Decker aside.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best,” Decker said. “Detail, takes care of himself on the field, again, detail-oriented, commands in the huddle, pushes people, keeps you accountable. Things that you want in a leader and it’s been fun to be his teammate these last few days.”


Decker’s second day didn’t yield many opportunities with Brady, who once again received a light workload as Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling dominated the competitive reps. Decker caught his first pass in 11-on-11 drills from Hoyer, separating easily on a deep crossing route. Later in the practice, on a similar route from the slot, Hoyer delivered the ball slightly behind Decker. The veteran receiver got a hand on it, but couldn’t secure the catch.

There likely will be an adjustment period for Decker, who remained unsigned for nearly five months after his one-year contract with the Titans expired.

What type of shape is he in? Does he still have enough athleticism at age 31 to create separation?

The Patriots have a month to find the answers

Entering his ninth NFL season, Decker is nearing the end of a solid career. He was among the league’s top red-zone weapons for years, totaling 51 touchdowns in 81 games from 2011-16. As a member of the Titans in 2017, Decker saw his touchdown total plummet (1) and his yards-per-reception average fall to a career-low 10.4.

Perhaps a role with the high-powered Patriots’ offense will help Decker.

“I’ve got so much respect for everyone on this team, everyone in this organization,” Decker said. “(I’m) trying to be a good teammate, learn names, know where I’m going around the facilities. The biggest thing is just getting the playbook, studying – I’ve been doing a lot of that the last couple days and just trying to catch up with everybody.”

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