New England Patriots: What the Aaron Hernandez Extension Means for Wes Welker
On August 27, the Associated Press reported that New England agreed to terms with tight end Aaron Hernandez on a five-year extension worth $40 million. Coming just months after a similar extension given to Rob Gronkowski, Welker has to be confused about his future as a Patriot.
Let's run through what Hernandez's new deal means for Welker in both 2012 and beyond.
Short-Term Positive: Playing in an Offense with Several Weapons
There's no doubt that the presence of Aaron Hernandez bolsters the Patriots offensive attack. Wes Welker can chalk this up as a win in this facet.
In 2011, the Patriots lost only twice when Hernandez was in the lineup.
This season, the arsenal of Welker, Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd will be more than enough for Tom Brady—who's made magic out of far less talent—to work with. The quartet of pass-catchers will certainly translate to wins for the Patriots, which Welker won't be able to complain about.
Something as simple as playing a minimal role on a successful team could boost Welker's value—whether it be for the sake of the Patriots or another team. Getting closer to another Super Bowl can only help Welker at this point in his career.
Short-Term Negative: Decreased Targets
With Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez locked up in Foxboro until 2018, the two-tight end attack will be Tom Brady's primary weapon, leaving Wes Welker with the lesser role of a traditional slot receiver.
In his five seasons in New England, Welker has prided himself in carrying the bulk of the load, grabbing over 111 receptions in every season but one. With Hernandez now hogging a good portion of the Pats' payroll, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see his role increase in 2012, leaving Welker frozen out a bit.
Welker may not be the 100 reception-type receiver he's been since 2007. The point for the Patriots is he may not need to. At 31 years old, Welker likely won't be the exact player he was in 2007, 2009, or even last year.
Long-Term Positive: Ensured Steady Health
With less targets, however, comes less stress put on his body. Wes Welker is 31 years old and, with a torn ACL already in his past, can ill afford an injury this late in his career.
Welker has done a relatively great job fighting injuries, especially when you consider how taxing his yards after catch-heavy playing style is on his body. With age, though, inevitably comes injuries. A lesser role in this stage of the game could be exactly what Welker needs to prolong his career.
He's coming off a career-best season in touchdowns and receiving yards, and was one catch shy of his personal single-season high of 123 (2009). The season after that monstrous '09 campaign, however, Welker put up his worst stats as a Patriot: 86 catches for a total of 848 yards.
A lessened responsibility in Bill Belichick's offense could be what ultimately saves Welker's career.
Long-Term Negative: End of Welker's Tenure as a Patriot
Aaron Hernandez's new contract may be what ultimately stamps Wes Welker's ticket out of New England.
Welker's unhappiness with team management has spanned months, as he continues to express his reluctance to play for the franchise tender of one year, $9.5 million.
The combined $103 million that the Patriots have shelled out to their young-gun tight ends displays that they aren't being stingy with their funds. They just don't feel as if Welker is worthy of top-tier money, and offering a long-term deal to a 31-year-old slot receiver may not be in the team's best interest.
Barring an injury, Welker is due for a pay day this summer. One team will be sure to cut him his check. After New England's new deal with Hernandez, though, it appears as if that team will not be the Patriots.
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