Eric Decker's perception of New Jersey wasn't good. Overcrowded and too much traffic, he thought. He probably watched too many episodes of "The Sopranos." Then he arrived for Super Bowl XLVIII and practiced in Florham Park at the New York Jets' facility. Now he sounds like he's ready to do chamber-of-commerce-type endorsements for Gov. Chris Christie.
"I think New Jersey is under-rated," the former Denver Broncos wide receiver said Friday on a media conference call, his first group interview since signing a five-year, $36.25 million contract with the Jets. "I got to spend a week out there and it's a beautiful place."
No doubt, Decker will score points among the locals for his "under-rated" comment; the hard part will be convincing them the state's newest millionaire isn't over-rated.
Even though he's ninth in the NFL in receiving yards over the last two seasons (2,352), Decker arrives with a stigma. Fair or not, the perception of him is that he's a product of Peyton Manning's brilliance. Any receiver can put up gaudy numbers in a Manning-orchestrated system, right? Obviously, Decker doesn't feel that way.
"Did he help? Of course he helped, he's a future Hall of Famer," Decker said. "But I also think I'm a good football player, and I think my skill set is an asset that can help the team win football games. That's why I'm here in New York."
You can look at it the other way, too: Before Manning arrived in 2012, Decker managed 44 receptions and nine touchdowns with scatter-armed Tim Tebow at quarerback. So there's that.
Decker said the Broncos didn't make an offer to keep him, claiming he took no offense because he understands the salary cap world of the league. He reportedly had two other visits lined up (he wouldn't name the teams), but he said the Jets "felt like home," mentioning he liked the "culture" around the organization. He agreed to terms Wednesday night and celebrated at dinner with Rex Ryan and other staff members. In New Jersey, of course.
So he goes from the most prolific passing offense in history to the 31st-ranked passing offense, led by a still-developing quarterback, Geno Smith.
"I think this team has a lot of potential," Decker said. "It's a young football team. I've always felt like I've played the underdog role throughout my life, throughout my football career -- now, high school, college. I'm motivated to help this team win football games. To me, that’s the most important thing, joining a culture that wants to do that. I enjoyed my time in Denver, but I'm excited about this opportunity."
Being around Manning for two years is bound to be a positive. Manning is obsessed with preparation, and Decker hopes to bring that mentality to his new team.
"My goal is to take the knowledge and preparation I've learned the last four years, with some great coaches and a great quarterback, and share that with my teammates," he said. "You win football games between Wednesday and Saturday. The preparation we did as an offense in Denver can be done in New York."
Decker isn't the only celebrity is in his family. His wife is Jessica James, a country pop singer, and they star together in an E! reality series called, "Eric and Jessie: Game On." The second series begins March 30. The Jets go from "Hard Knocks" (in 2010) to "Eric and Jessie." Decker claimed the opportunity to play in the No. 1 media market had no bearing on his decision.
"The priority was football," he said. "Obviously, being in the biggest, best city in the country offers other opportunities, but my mindset was, what’s good for me from a football standpoint?"