The chess match between receiver Wes Welker and the New England Patriots is officially over. As Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports, the Denver Broncos have signed Welker to a two-year, $12 million deal after the Patriots refused to match it. According to Breer, the Patriots' final offer was for $10 million over two years, with incentives.
The Pats tried lowballing their leading receiver before the 2012 season, only to place the franchise tag on him as a simple $9.5 million, one-year stopgap. Now, it would seem that Bill Belichick set the bar far lower than Welker would like. In the end, New England replaced Welker with former St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola, a younger, more injury-prone version of their established star. If Amendola can stay healthy, it might be a net gain, but that's yet to be seen.
Far be it for us to question Belichick's football acumen, but we're not too sure about this, especially when Tom Brady re-did his contract to a more cap-friendly version, and Welker is by far his favorite and most reliable receiver. Brady might see this as a mild slap in the face. In fact, a source close to Brady told Tom Curran of Comcast SportsNet New England that Brady is "enraged" about losing Welker.
Welker will be 32 years old in May, but his skills takes on age better than most receivers. He's predominantly a yards-after-catch guy who takes passes from at or behind the line of scrimmage and makes his bones from there. In addition, there's nobody better in the league at running option routes, and no team's playbook has more option routes than New England's. From Chad Jackson to Joey Galloway to Chad Ochocinco, we've all seen what happens when a receiver runs the wrong route on Brady just once: He gets the Brady Death Stare, and then, he enters the Witness Protection Program, never to be seen again.
"I have to trust in Deion [Branch] and Wes [Welker] and all those guys out there to be in the right spot so I can play fast and anticipate what they're doing," Brady told the media last June, right around the time Ochocinco got his walking papers and subsequently headed to Miami. "If everyone is not on the same page, it doesn't work. A lot of what these practices are about is everybody getting on the same page. You have a lot of new guys from other teams, rookies. The faster we can get up to speed and get better as a unit, the better we're going to be."
It's a bigger deal than people think. In one Patriots playbook I've seen (the 2004 version), there were 25 different single receiver routes, and that doesn't count all the available options. Nor does it cover where those routes are run in a split on the field, or how the receivers run routes in tandem. There were 17 different two-man route combos in the playbook I saw, and five different three-man route combos. Once you've mastered all that stuff, there's then the matter of the call in any pass play -- the name of the route group that a team decides on any pass play for anywhere from one to five receivers. Add in the protection at the line, and you have the start of what will be an eventual Patriots play call.
Welker tried to be the consummate pro through this, but everyone has their limits.
"Your mindset is just to kind of dig deep, understand the situation, and just go out there and play to the best of your ability whenever you get the opportunity," Welker told me last October, when his snap counts were going up week by week. "Once you get the opportunity, you make the most of it. I've tried to do that, and just tried to help the team win. Whatever I need to do to do that, that's what I'm going to do."
Welker has 672 regular-season receptions in his six years in New England, 80 more catches than any other receiver over that time. Yes, a lot of those catches are quick screens and slants, but how do you replace that kind of production?
Now that the Pats have cut Welker loose, and as he finds the bloom on another rose elsewhere, Belichick will have a lot of questions to answer about it. And they'll most likely start from his quarterback.
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