When Tom Brady signed a contract extension earlier this week that will free up over $8 million in cap space over the next two seasons, some pundits theorized that the Patriots would use some of those savings in an effort to retain veteran wide receiver Wes Welker.
For Welker's sake, I hope so.
While the 31-year-old may be able to eke a bit more green from another team, he'll find that the grass in another pasture doesn't share that color.
Mind you, by no means is that meant to be a knock on Welker as a football player. When the Miami Dolphins traded Welker to the Patriots for the football equivalent of a bag of Funyuns, I was flabbergasted. I still am.
Since then, all Welker has done is become the most prolific wide receiver in the National Football League. Five times in six seasons as a Patriot, Welker has topped 100 receptions and 1,000 yards. Three times, he has led the league in receptions. He's earned five trips to the Pro Bowl and four All-Pro nods over that span.
He's also demonstrated himself to be as tough as they come over that stretch, whether it's constantly catching the ball across the middle of the field or returning to action with remarkable speed after tearing his ACL in 2009.
However, Welker's phenomenal run as a Patriot has as much to do with where he is as who he is.
For starters, there likely isn't a quarterback/receiver duo in the NFL that shares a relationship as close as the one between Welker and Tom Brady.
The two just aren't on the same page: They're on the same word. They're peas and carrots. They probably share plates of spaghetti.
When you're a receiver who relies more on wits than sheer athleticism, having such a strong rapport with your quarterback can make all the difference in the world.
That rapport shows in the sheer number of passes that have been directed Welker's way in Beantown. Over the past five seasons, only once has Welker ranked outside the top 10 in targets per season, and he's averaged nearly 150 targets a year over that stretch.
That's a lot of opportunity to produce.
Second, while he may have been the most targeted wideout for New England, he hasn't been the player who has kept opposing defensive coordinators up nights most of the time.
Whether it was Randy Moss or Rob Gronkowski, there has just about always been another player in the New England offense who is a more dangerous "threat."
That has prevented opposing defenses from focusing a lot of double teams on Welker.
Let's face it. Wes Welker is a great wide receiver, but Calvin Johnson he ain't. He's 5'9", and he's not exactly giving off vapor trails as he runs downfield as a result of world-class speed.
Welker's 11.5 yards per reception ranked 82nd in the NFL a year ago. His career high of 12.9 yards in 2011 ranked 70th.
In addition to his considerable talents, Wes Welker has excelled in New England due to a fantastic relationship with an accurate quarterback and an offense that has prevented opponents from keying on him.
Change one of those factors—drop Welker into a new situation with a lesser quarterback and fewer pieces around him, and opposing defenses are going to make "stop Wes Welker" the focus of their defensive game plan against the pass.
If that becomes the case, then Welker's talents may not be enough, and his production is likely to drop significantly as a result.
Granted, "failure" may be a strong word to use for such an occurrence, but if Welker leaves the Patriots and his numbers drop, that's exactly what people are going to call it.
And that will be partially Wes Welker's fault.
After all, he helped set the bar that high to begin with.
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