In the wake of New England season-ending loss, one question will inevitably be on everyone’s mind: what will happen to Wes Welker?
Welker (31) is a free agent whose contract status over the last year-and-a-half has been well documented.
Entering the 2012 season, he was seeking a long-term deal to stay in New England. While his situation was in limbo, the Patriots signed Rob Gronkowski (six years, $54 million) and Aaron Hernandez (five years, $40 million) to lucrative extensions.
Instead of doing the same with Welker, New England elected to slap the franchise tag on him, paying him $9.5 million in 2012.
He is coming off another fantastic season, hauling in 118 catches for 1,354 yards and three touchdowns.
Although he would be a significant loss, the Patriots (on paper) are deep enough to get by without him—albeit with a slightly less potent offense.
Currently, the players New England has under contract are Tom Brady, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and the duo of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen (Danny Woodhead is a free agent) in the backfield.
Not too shabby.
Julian Edelman—who is viewed by many as Welker’s successor—is also a free agent but is expected to re-sign with the Patriots.
While he will be expecting a raise in the form of a multi-year deal, it will come nowhere close to what Welker made annually in his Patriots career (Edelman made $615,000 in base salary during the 2012 season).
With Welker coming off the books, the Patriots can allocate money toward positions they desperately need to upgrade; for example, in the secondary.
Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed and Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson are two impending free agents who come to mind.
New England had one of the worst pass defenses in 2012, ranking 29th in that category. That is something that has to be addressed this offseason.
Sure, the offensive production will drop slightly without Welker, but don’t the issues in the secondary present more of a concern?
If the Patriots land either Ed Reed or Charles Woodson—both of whom made over $6 million in 2012—the chances of Welker being signed to a long-term deal become almost zero.
There is however still a glimmer of hope. The Patriots can and probably will use the franchise tag on Welker again (much to his dismay), which would bring him back on a one-year deal worth roughly $11.4 million.
Barring some unforeseen turn of events, that is probably what they will do.