Perhaps the most pivotal free agent the Patriots will pursue is their own record-setting wide receiver.
The Case For
Owner Robert Kraft has publicly stated the two sides would like to get a deal done so if money weren’t an issue, it sounds like Welker would be a Patriot for life.
Welker has been Tom Brady’s
most only reliable target since joining the team in 2007, leading the NFL in receptions as many times—three—as he’s failed to suit up for a game.
Randy Moss enjoyed a career resurgence then ran himself out of town. Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL right now, but can’t seem to stay on the field. Ditto for Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman.
Brady’s only refuge in a sea of turmoil has been Welker. Claiming the Patriots would like to re-sign him would be like claiming the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.
For his part, Welker has thrived in the Patriots’ wide-open system and playing with the super-accurate Brady. The two are a match made in heaven as Brady has used Welker as his safety blanket en route to 45 total interceptions during their five seasons together.
That means that since New England found Welker, Brady has averaged nine interceptions per season, which is fewer than Peyton Manning has ever thrown in a single season, with the exception of 2006, when he matched that number with nine.
Before Welker’s arrival, Brady averaged 13 interceptions during six seasons.
Yes, Brady’s best seasons—at least statistically—have all come since 2007, but he didn’t wake up one day and become a more accurate passer. Having a reliable weapon like Welker to bail him out has done wonders for his efficiency.
If the two sides are in fact mutually interested in working out a deal, the Patriots would be foolish not to explore it to the fullest extent.
The Case Against
For all the wonderful things Welker does on the football field, he isn’t the kind of player opposing defenses game-plan for. He lacks elite downfield speed and stands at only 5’9” tall.
Considering he leads the NFL in receptions since 2007, Welker stands to make himself a handsome paycheck this offseason. With the exceptions of Brady and eventually Logan Mankins, the team has shown a major reluctance to pay top dollar for their players.
Yes, Kraft says the two sides both want to get a deal done, but he also added the caveat, “then we have to manage the lawyers and the agents that they don’t mess it up.”
Translation: The Patriots want Welker, but only at less than market value.
Any player who catches as many passes as he does is bound to drop a few as well, but Welker’s drops always seem to come at the most inopportune moment.
There was, of course, his infamous fourth-quarter drop in last year’s Super Bowl, which inspired the online pawn shop Pawngo to drop thousands of Butterfinger candy bars in Boston’s Copley Square.
I don’t think they’ll be getting much business from the New England demographic any time soon.
There was also his critical drop in this year’s AFC Championship game. In this case, it was an easy catch by Welker’s standards, and instead he dropped what would have been a first down and likely a field goal at the very least.
The game was still very much in the balance at that point and many fans still point to his drop as the pivotal moment.
Further reinforcing Welker’s expendability are other players, like New England’s own Julian Edelman, who show the skills to fill Welker’s role very admirably.
If Edelman can do Welker’s job for a fraction of the price, why bother paying Welker?
Given his small stature and the vicious hits wide receivers absorb crossing the middle of the field, Welker’s consistency cannot be overstated. He’s played in more games over the past six seasons than any other player on the offense, including Brady.
Because he doesn’t fit the prototype of a No. 1 NFL wide receiver, gauging his value is difficult. Last season the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement and the Patriots used the franchise tag to keep Welker. This season, franchising him would cost the team $11.4 million.
With roughly $18.5 million in cap space, that seems highly unlikely.
Eventually I think the two sides will realize how valuable they are to each other and cooler heads will prevail. He may not be Calvin Johnson, but Welker deserves a long-term contract, and I think he realizes playing alongside Tom Brady represents his best chance for continued success.