Wes Welker has done everything and more that anyone could have expected out of him when the Patriots traded for the restricted free agent prior to the 2007 season. His production has been through the roof and he is a favorite of Tom Brady and nearly every fan in New England.
Welker has performed at a level above what his contract compensated and he was awarded with just a one-year franchise tag salary of $9.5 million. He deserves better, but unfortunately in the business of the NFL, that means nothing.
As much as Welker has been the victim and I feel badly for him, I believe at this point the team is actually doing the right thing in not giving in on a contract extension. After their 2012 campaign is complete, I believe the Patriots should simply let Welker walk away and finally hit the open market.
Another option would be to franchise him again in 2013 with the intent of trading him as has been done with Matt Cassel in the past. Bill Belichick uses everything at his disposal to help his team so this would be no surprise to see him utilize the tag on Welker. Welker could likely fetch a second-round pick from some teams.
At age 31, Welker is a player who could be hitting the downside of his career, especially when you consider the amount of damage he takes on hits across the middle. He moves the chains as well as anyone in the business, but he is not a player that should be compensated as a top-flight receiver for three to four years.
Including this season, two years is the longest I believe the team should be willing to go. Of course a front-loaded three-year deal would be essentially be the same thing, but I do not see an agreement being met on a contract like that.
What should the Patriots do with Welker moving forward?
The money that would go towards a Welker extension could be better spent elsewhere. Perhaps those millions could go toward an extension for emerging slot-receiver/tight end Aaron Hernandez now that the team already wrapped up Rob Gronkowski long-term.
Though Welker is without a doubt the league’s best slot option, I do not think the team would suffer a huge drop-off by any means if Welker were to sign elsewhere.
Between Julian Edelman, who could be re-signed for cheap after this season, and Hernandez, I believe Welker’s production can be replaced. The offense may evolve with those two players filling out roles in the slot, but evolution is not a bad thing.
Without Welker’s many receptions so close to the line of scrimmage, the team could possibly go back to a running game that has not been utilized on a consistent basis for a number of years. That being said, solid performances in 2012 by second-year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen could aid in making Welker’s loss easier to swallow.
It is not a popular opinion and it will not be a popular decision if they do in fact move on from Wes Welker, but it is the right call.