Wes Welker is almost guaranteed to deliver over 100 receptions and over 1,000 yards per season, not to mention the fact that he's a fan favorite around New England. He's also one of Tom Brady's favorite targets.
Those are very solid points in favor of a long-term contract, which is what Welker wants.
But the New England Patriots appear to be chewing on a different notion, at least for the time being, which is why they slapped him with the short-term tag.
The tag buys some time for further negotiations, but it also speaks to a larger truth which could be concerning the higher-ups who write the checks. Welker takes bone-crushing beatings during every game, which doesn't bode well for a guy over 30. Plus, his knee was blown out a few years ago.
From that perspective, Welker doesn't exactly scream "long-term investment."
If the intelligent goal is to pay players for their future performance, then Welker is lurking in a murky middle ground. How much longer can he deliver 1,000-yard seasons? He gets banged up every Sunday. Yeah, he's tough as nails, but he's also a pretty small dude. Will he even be able to stay on the field long enough to catch over 100 balls?
One could theorize that handing Welker a hefty long-term contract would merely be a way of rewarding him for his past statistics, leaving you to cross your fingers and hope that his production doesn't dip. That's admirable, but is it intelligent?
If he was 27, this whole contract dispute wouldn't be an issue.
Or would it?
Last season, Welker dropped the most important football of his life.
Was it a bad throw? Maybe. Difficult placement? Certainly. Weird angle? Without a doubt. Tough catch? Absolutely. But no matter how you slice it or where you place the blame, it was still a catchable football. He had it in his hands and he didn't pull it down.
I can't go so far as to say that a catch by Welker would've won Super Bowl XLVI for the Patriots, but I'm confident in saying that a catch could've seriously altered the way that game played out. Yes, it's hypothetical, but how could you not think about it? It's the Super Bowl; this is the stage where the greatest players play their best, and that was a superstar catch which this superstar receiver should've made.
So here we are, smack-dab in the middle of a contract tug of war. But had Welker made the catch, would there be a tug of war at all? Would his age matter? Would his knee matter? Or the dangerous routes he runs?
Had he made the catch, would anything else in the world matter, aside from that spectacular catch? Would his long-term deal already be signed, sealed and delivered? Perhaps.
Or perhaps not.
Look at Mario Manningham. He made the catch that Welker couldn't, he won the Super Bowl for the Giants, but now he's on the 49ers. So, clearly making "the big catch" doesn't guarantee your place anywhere.
But even with the Manningham example staring me in the face, I still can't help but feel that the drop matters. Call it a gut feeling. Or maybe it's just because the Super Bowl loss is still raw in my mind. I really can't be sure.
So, how much does the drop affect Welker's value? Is that even a factor? Hard to say. It all comes down to measuring five years of spectacular performances against one huge drop.
Completing that pass would've been Welker's defining moment. Like the strip on Lee Evans which set the stage for Sterling Moore's coming-out party, or "the shot" by Michael Jordan, or "the goal" by Bobby Orr, that catch would've defined the soul and career of Wes Welker.
Welker is one of my favorite athletes of all time, but the drop is the first image I associate with him. That's entirely unfair, but that's how it is. I still want him on the team, I still love the guy, but that drop was significant.
Had the drop been a catch, maybe everything would be different right now. No contract dispute at all. Or maybe we'd still be approaching training camp with the possibility of not seeing Welker there.
Should Welker's Super Bowl drop affect his contract value? No. But does it? Well, yeah. At least, it does to me. I want him on the team, but I'm not ready to give him everything he wants.
The drop doesn't outweigh the last five years, but it certainly weighs something.
Welker deserves a long-term contract with the Patriots, but the terms really need to be reasonable. We can't pretend the drop didn't happen. Even for those who felt it was a bad pass, the fact is that Brady has had a dozen different defining moments in his career and Welker missed his one chance. That matters.
I want Welker in New England. I'd be heartbroken to see him go somewhere else. But Welker needs to keep the drop in mind during these negotiations. I don't know what he's asking for, I don't know what goes on behind those closed doors, but I would hope that he's being rational about this. I hope both sides are being rational.
Here's hoping that cooler heads prevail and everything works out in the end.
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