Before assuming that it’s impossible for Salas to fill Welker’s shoes in the New England offense, consider this: Welker came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent. From 2004 to 2006, he compiled 96 receptions for 1,121 yards and one touchdown in Miami and didn’t catch a single pass in 2004.
Since being introduced to Tom Brady in 2007 as a teammate rather than a divisional rival, Welker has hauled in at least 111 passes in an individual season four times.
Former St. Louis Ram Salas was drafted in the fourth round and showed flashes during his rookie year. Working primarily out of the slot position, he caught eight passes for 77 yards during Week 6 at Green Bay and seven balls for 59 yards during Week 9 at home against the Cardinals.
He left the Week 9 game with a broken leg, ending his season.
Salas also has experience working within Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ scheme. McDaniels was in the same role in St. Louis in 2011.
Welker has tallied an impressive 554 catches for 6,105 yards and 31 touchdowns since 2007. The only season in which he did not record over 110 catches or 1,100 yards was his first season back from tearing his ACL. Welker was still remarkably productive in 2010, hauling in 86 receptions for 848 yards and seven scores.
But we’ve seen previously productive NFL wideouts being shown the door in New England in recent history. Randy Moss scored 47 touchdowns from 2007 to 2009 before being let go midseason in 2010 at the age of 33.
Chad Johnson (then Ochocinco) brought in only 15 passes during his one-year tenure in New England. He didn’t cause distractions off the field like Moss did, so the Patriots retained him through their Super Bowl run. However, Johnson was allowed to walk earlier this year at the age of 34.
Welker will be 32 at the start of the 2013 NFL season, but New England has already financially committed long-term to young receiving tight ends Rob Gronkowski (23 years old) and Aaron Hernandez (22). The team also signed Brandon Lloyd, who is two months younger than Welker.
While Welker plays and produces under the franchise tag in 2012, Salas could very well be right behind him, gaining more valuable NFL experience. Salas can also develop chemistry with Tom Brady and his potential successor in Ryan Mallett.
There is little reason to doubt that Welker can still play ball at a high level this year or next, but he might be doing so in a different uniform. If he does leave after this season, Salas could step into his role in the offense as a fabled breakout, third-year wide receiver next year.
Allow me to be the first to recommend Greg Salas’ name for your 2013 fantasy-football-sleeper lists.