The Patriots viewed Wes Welker as replaceable. That shouldn't come as a surprise.
They declined to give the slot machine a long-term deal last offseason, instead forcing him into a one-year franchise tender. In Week 1, he played on just 64 percent of the snaps while Julian Edelman picked up the rest of the slot reps. In Week 2, Edelman started. Only after injuries to Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and Edelman (hand) struck did Welker seize back his usual role.
This offseason, the Patriots took it a step further. They barely negotiated with Welker, coming in with a late lowball offer of two-years and $10 million. They dared Welker to leave, knowing full well he could wind up with an AFC rival. Presumably, Bill Belichick was fine with this because:
1. Welker will be 32 in May.
2. Welker can only play the slot at 5'9/185.
3. Welker's success has been a result of the Patriots' scheme.
4. Welker has no long speed.
Well, we're about to find out just how replaceable Welker truly is in the form of Danny Amendola (more on that below).
In Denver, Welker will be part of an insanely talented receiving corps that already includes Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Note that his deal with the Broncos is for just two years and $12 million -- they're not asking him to be a hero. In New England, he averaged an insane 9.96 targets per game. That's just not going to happen anymore.
Welker will take an inflated form of the Brandon Stokley role from last year. Before you laugh, check out Stokley's 2012 numbers: 45 catches, 544 yards, five touchdowns, 58 targets. Welker will be plenty productive as Peyton Manning loves to throw to the slot, but anything more than 6-7 targets per game would be a surprise. The bubble screens he enjoyed in New England will go to Thomas in Denver. The days of video-game numbers are over.
The rest of the fallout:
* Downgrade Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker: No-brainer here. Those previously mentioned 6-7 targets per game are going to come from somewhere. Stokley averaged just 3.8 targets a game last year.
* Upgrade Peyton Manning: The Broncos figure to be even more aggressive throwing the ball now. Welker is an upgrade on Stokley in terms of YAC ability.
* Upgrade Aaron Hernandez: There's reason to believe that the Patriots viewed Hernandez and Welker as overlapping talents. Hernandez can comfortably play the slot, proving to be too big for any DBs and too quick for any LBs. He's going to have a monster year if he can sustain health, despite the addition of Amendola.
* Downgrade Tom Brady: We haven't heard from Brady quite yet, but he has to be seething. After restructuring his contract, he loses his go-to receiver to a rival. Brandon Lloyd could be cut within the next 48 hours. That would leave Brady with no receivers on the roster that caught a pass from him last year. The comfort level he had with Welker is gone.
* Upgrade Danny Amendola: When healthy, Amendola has been a difference-maker. Over the last 28 games, he's averaged 5.46 catches a day with Sam Bradford as his quarterback. Now he has Tom Brady. The problem is that Amendola has earned a fragile reputation by missing 20 games over the last two seasons. Note that Welker missed three in his six-year Patriot career. Still, Amendola will have a ton of upside in PPR formats -- 90-100 catches is well within reach.