Patriots free-agent WR Wes Welker has no plans to re-sign with New England before first testing the free-agent market next week.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 6, 2013
The overwhelming sentiment, from sources on both sides of the Welker situation, is he will be back with the Patriots. It’s not a matter of if, but when. What you are seeing now is part of the process.
In a survey of a half-dozen personnel executives at the Scouting Combine, almost all of them thought Welker’s market would be limited — much more than if the Patriots didn’t tag him last year — because of the lack of cap space across the league.
So, instead of figuring out where Welker will or will not end up for the 2013 campaign, let's just see where he fits best. Obviously he is great for the Pats—that's a given.
But Bill Belichick and Co. do not stand alone when it comes to Super Bowl potential for next season. To that end, here are some teams that could significantly benefit from Welker's skill set, with each team having decent odds regarding potential cap space.
Note: View of 2013 salary cap figures are according to the NFL Management Council via Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.
As if the Falcons need any more offense, why not become the NFL's unequivocal juggernaut?
The potential cap space is there and Welker would be an incredible complement to Matt Ryan's offense. With two deep threats in Julio Jones and Roddy White to stretch defenses, Welker would never face double coverage or even a bracketed zone underneath.
And should a defense choose to isolate Jones and/or White, it then becomes increasingly vulnerable to Welker making plays at each field dimension. Given that he led pro football with 619 yards after the catch in 2012, no opponent would be able to completely slow down Atlanta.
Factor in the Falcons as NFC title contenders, and Welker immediately puts the Dirty Birds over the top.
Denver does not have an underneath receiving target on the level of Wes Welker.
Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen and Brandon Stokley are definitely reliable. But none of those targets has an impact quite like Welker's. He's easily one of the NFL's quickest receivers and brings the field awareness to sit between zones and capitalize versus single coverage.
After catching 118 passes last season, the presence of Welker in the slot for Peyton Manning derives much attention away from Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside. Although they are a dependable receiving tandem, having the luxury of Welker forces a defense to play more Cover 1 and 2.
In short, Thomas and Decker can stretch a secondary at a greater rate. The end results are fewer blitzes from opponents and a stronger passing game that sets up the run for increased balance.
Green Bay Packers
At first glance, the Packers don't appear to be a sound fit for Welker. But let's dive into Titletown anyway and see what makes it appealing.
First, it was the announced retirement of receiver Donald Driver according to Mike Spofford of the Packers' official website in January. Then, Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reported that Green Bay elected to not put a franchise tag on Greg Jennings:
Now, even though Aaron Rodgers has three solid targets in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, pursuing Welker would only inflate Green Bay's efficiency. Jones is coming off his best season as a pro, but it's still far from Welker's capabilities.
Pairing Cobb and Welker is certainly a bit redundant, because the young target out of Kentucky possesses similar qualities. That said, going with a spread formation with each in the opposing slot and Jones and Nelson on the outside will provide an offense that defenses might not have an answer for.
It also helps to set up the run, because Green Bay will constantly spread opponents out and wider lanes will occur as a result.
The Seahawks proved last season that they can definitely become Super Bowl contenders with Russell Wilson at quarterback. Factor in Marshawn Lynch on the ground and some reliable receivers, and this team could soon be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Other than New England, where does Welker fit best?
For one, he's a step up in the slot from Doug Baldwin.
Although Baldwin has proven to be reliable, few receivers in the NFL match the level of Welker's: He caught 67.8 percent of his targets (174) from Brady last season, and Seattle's ground game will only increase Welker's effectiveness.
The 'Hawks also field two targets in Sidney Rice and Golden Tate to press a secondary on its heels. Count the threat of Lynch going beast-mode and a defense will either stack the box or sit back in Cover 3.
Welker then finds wider open space at the intermediate level and accumulates more yards after the catch. The Seahwaks have the talent to make a run at the Super Bowl, trying for Welker simply enhances this opportunity.