Despite having one of the best offenses in the league in 2012, the Denver Broncos were not content going into 2013 with the same group of players. The team signed right guard Louis Vasquez on the first day of free agency, but waited until the second day to land the big fish—wide receiver Wes Welker.
John Elway confirmed that the Broncos signed Welker to a two-year deal in a tweet moments after it was first reported. The deal is just $12 million over two years according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Most would consider $6 million per year for Welker to be a fantastic deal, but it’s surprising there wasn’t more of a market for his services.
Despite a smaller contract than expected, Welker is widely considered one of the best slot receivers in the league. Welker immediately replaces free agent Brandon Stokley and backup tight end Jacob Tamme in Denver’s offense and gives Peyton Manning another reliable weapon in the passing game.
The Broncos like to use a lot of three-receiver sets with a tight end and running back, which makes Welker a perfect fit because he will be a full-time player. Offenses that don’t use three-receiver sets the majority of the time would be forced to take Welker off the field. Taking a weapon like Welker off the field is usually a bad idea, especially when the outside receivers are Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Manning’s familiarity with Stokley and Tamme enabled the Broncos to be successful, but Welker is clearly an upgrade. Welker had 134 receptions in 2012 on 191 targets according to ProFootballFocus, with 19 drops and seven touchdowns on 753 routes including the playoffs.
By comparison, Stokley was targeted 63 times and caught 48 passes with six touchdowns and just two drops, and Tamme was targeted 83 times and caught 55 passes with two touchdowns and just one drop. Stokley and Tamme combined to run 772 routes. Welker was targeted a greater percentage of the time, and the result was 36 more receptions than Denver got out the combination of Stokley and Tamme.
Those 36 additional receptions on the same number of snaps would equal roughly 400 yards per season. That’s a lot of extra production, assuming it doesn’t take away from Thomas and Decker.
It’s that extra production that the Broncos anticipate getting from Welker.
Welker is also an ideal fit with the Broncos because he’s one of the few receivers that will work as hard as Manning. The only frustration Manning might have is Welker’s inconsistency dropping the ball. But he’s so good at manipulating the center of a defense that Manning will likely have a short memory, because he’ll usually be open.
The addition of Welker might hurt Decker the most, because he’ll be confined to the outside the majority of the time. However, the gains from having Welker in the slot should far outweigh any negative impact. If anything, Decker is going to have more opportunities to beat one-on-one coverage with a cornerback on the outside.
Welker will basically be a deluxe model of Dallas Clark, who caught 100 passes from Manning in 2009. Signing Welker makes Denver’s offense even harder to defend than it was in 2012, which is hard to believe.
The Broncos are trying to win the Super Bowl now, and the signing of Welker proves they mean serious business.