The Patriots knew what they had in Welker, who made a league-high 672 receptions during his six underpaid years in New England. He was durable, dependable and clearly provided quarterback Tom Brady with a sense of security.
Instead of making Welker happy before he reached free agency, the Patriots made him an offer they knew he would refuse and then watched him wiggle off the line and sign a two year, $12 million offer with the Denver Broncos that's fully guaranteed.
Depending on which report you believe, the Patriots either didn't match Denver's offer or weren't given the opportunity to do so.
Why the Patriots didn't make more of an effort to retain the 32-year-old Welker is unclear, especially since Welker has shown no sign of slowing down. He caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns in 16 regular-season games with New England last season.
Some have speculated that Welker had fallen out of favor with Patriots coach Bill Belichick away from the field. That theory makes sense since the Patriots didn't save money by allowing Welker to play elsewhere. Once Welker was officially Denver's property, the Patriots signed slot receiver Danny Amendola to a five-year, $31 million contract that includes $10 million in guaranteed money.
Amendola, who spent the last four seasons with the St. Louis Rams, is similar to Welker in stature, but not in production. Amendola caught a total of 196 passes for 1,276 yards and seven TDs during his four years with the Rams. He's never had more than 689 receiving yards in a season. Welker had more than 1,000 receiving yards in five of his six years with New England.
Like Welker, Amendola was undrafted coming out of Texas Tech. He's five years younger than Welker, but here's the red flag: Amendola has missed 20 of his last 32 games because of injury. Welker was healthy enough to play in all but three games during his stay with the Patriots.
The Patriots are gambling that Amendola can remain healthy AND come close to matching Welker's production. They're also assuming that Brady will develop a chemistry with Amendola similar to the chemistry he had with Welker.
Those are big risks - and unnecessary ones.
It's hard to envision Brady being happy with the move. Brady recently restructured his contract in a way that gave the Patriots more space under the salary cap. His reward? The Patriots allowed his favorite receiver - and a close friend - to sign with Denver, a team that will surely be in New England's path to the Super Bowl next season. The Broncos were the only AFC team that had a better regular season record than the Patriots in 2012.
Parting with Welker has fractured the team's fan base. Some are outraged, others don't question Belichick. This much is for sure: Belichick isn't the least bit concerned about fan reaction, because he's never been afraid to make an unpopular move (see Kosar, Bernie).
The Patriots surrendered a known commodity for a younger player with upside, but they should have done the right thing. They should have signed their best receiver.
Roger Brown is a freelance writer who has been covering high school, college and professional football throughout New England since 1992.
- Sports & Recreation
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- Wes Welker
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- Danny Amendola