Ty Law. Willie McGinest. Deion Branch. Asante Samuel.
All four excelled in a New England Patriots uniform; all four were shown the door after seeking out long-term higher-paying contracts. After Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline for finalizing long-term deals with franchise players passed, you can now most likely add Wes Welker to that list.
Welker, who had hoped to reach an agreement on a new long-term deal, will have to settle for playing under the franchise tag for $9.515 million next season. With the price of tagging Welker rising up to to $11.418 million in 2013, it’s likely that this will be his last season with the Patriots.
While kudos should be handed out to the Patriots for not budging from their “no one player is bigger than the team” stance, one has to wonder whether this circumstance should have been the exception.
This is Wes Welker we’re talking about. This is the man who’s led the league in receptions (554) since 2007 when he first arrived in Foxboro.
This is the man who’s coming off a career year in which he achieved career highs in receiving yards (1,569), touchdowns (9), and was only one shy of his high in receptions with 122.
This is the man who holds not one, but five franchise records for the Patriots. But most importantly, this is the man who served as a major catalyst to a season in which the Patriots nearly captured their fourth Super Bowl title in 11 years.
But in a sports town that boasts a “What have you done for me lately?” mantra, many seem to have forgotten all of that.
Instead, Welker is remembered as the scapegoat for the Patriots' crushing Super Bowl defeat in February. So why should he of all people receive a new long-term deal?
Sure, his drop on second down with 4:06 remaining could be seen as a turning point. But was he to blame for Brady’s misfire to Deion Branch on third down? Was he behind the defense’s collapse that led to a game-winning touchdown drive by Eli Manning and the New York Giants? No, he was not.
One drop of the ball is hardly enough to crucify a player, let alone one that has led the NFL in catching them three times in the last five years.
The Patriots’ busy offseason might have added to the team’s reluctance to adhere to Welker’s demands.
First, there’s the new six-year, $54 million extension the team recently doled out to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Add the fact that tight end Aaron Hernandez is also nearing the end of his contract in a couple years.
It may just be that the Patriots are looking to lock-up their younger stars in favor of the 31-year-old Welker.
Then there’s the new acquisitions to the team. The Patriots brought in a duo of receivers in Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth. With those two in the mix, quarterback Tom Brady will find himself with quite the offensive arsenal...maybe even proving Welker to be replaceable.
But why should it be either one or the other? If anything, Welker could flourish with the addition of offensive threats around him. With defenses unable to pay him as much attention as they have in past seasons, Welker could become even more of a threat next season.
Maybe he should have been more vocal about the matter. Maybe he should have threatened to hold out. Maybe he should have whined, pined and done everything short of hiring Don Draper to set up a promotional campaign. Hey, I even heard doing sit-ups on your front lawn works, too.
Unfortunately, these sorts of diva antics tend to get the players what they want these days.
But not Welker. He doesn’t like to sink to that level. He’s much better than that. If something will benefit the team, you can bet he’ll be the first one to volunteer for the job.
Take for example last year’s Super Bowl loss, Welker stepped up to the podium during his post-game press conference and took full responsibility for the loss while fighting back tears.
He’s the team-first guy who is finally asking for a bone. Just this once. So why not give it to him? He certainly deserves it.
But hey, like they always say: nice guys finish last. But when this one backfires, Welker won’t be there to take the blame. This time, it’s all on you, Belichick.