The number of candidates trying to earn a job in the Patriots receiving corps was reduced by one on Sunday when Eric Decker announced his retirement.
Decker, 31, had struggled since signing with New England on Aug. 3 in a move that seemed to be the perfect birthday present for Tom Brady, who turned 41 that day.
“This has been a passion that was inside of me since I was a little boy, but I know now it is time to hang my helmet up and start a new chapter in my life,’’ Decker wrote in an afternoon Instagram post.
Decker didn’t enter Friday’s exhibition game against the Panthers until the second half, meaning he had no playing time with Brady. Though he was targeted five times by Brian Hoyer, he caught only two balls for 12 yards, including an 11-yarder. Decker dropped a couple of balls as well, a problem that hounded him during his brief tenure in Foxborough.
Coach Bill Belichick said Saturday that Decker had been adjusting well to the Patriots’ system and suggested the eight-year veteran just needed to nail down his timing.
“We used a couple new formations last night so I don’t think learning is really a problem for him and he has a lot of experience [in] some of the more sophisticated routes, option routes, and things like that are all things that he’s done, and it’s just really a question of getting the timing and the exactly how you want to do it and seeing enough looks on it so that you and the quarterback know exactly what it is,’’ the coach said.
“And, again, in training camp when you’re working with multiple quarterbacks and multiple receivers, it takes a little time to get everybody to get those looks, so one quarterback might see one picture and then the next picture is just slightly different and making sure that the quarterbacks and the receivers again see those the same way and they can anticipate what’s going to happen. But that just comes through repetitions and experience.
“But he’s learned well, and he’s been able to play multiple positions for us, so that’s not a problem.’’
Decker was drafted in the third round in 2010 out of Minnesota by then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, so he had somewhat of a background in the system the Patriots’ offensive coordinator likes to run. That familiarity wasn’t enough to make Decker, who was signed shortly after Jordan Matthews was released, a good fit.
In addition to Matthews, the Patriots also have parted ways with receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Kenny Britt this summer. The team entered the summer without two of its biggest contributors from last season, with Danny Amendola signing with the Dolphins and Brandin Cooks being traded to the Rams.
New England’s depth chart has Julian Edelman, who will miss the first four games because of a suspension, at the top, followed by Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien, Braxton Berrios, and Paul Turner all are fighting for depth spots. Barring any additions over the next two weeks, at least two of those players have a shot at the 53-man roster.
In addition to the Broncos, Decker played for the Jets and Titans, amassing 439 catches for 5,816 yards, and 53 touchdowns.
“It has been my childhood dream and passion to play the game of football. I was very fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to have those dreams fulfilled and to have played with such extremely talented and hard-working teammates, coaches, and staff,’’ Decker wrote. “I love football and always will. It will continue to be a part of my life.’’
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The Patriots are releasing safety Eddie Pleasant, according to an ESPN report.