Did the New England Patriots Make a Huge Mistake Letting Welker, Woodhead Leave?

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Did the New England Patriots Make a Huge Mistake Letting Welker, Woodhead Leave?
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

After two games, it's obvious that Tom Brady could use some familiar targets. 

The future first-ballot Hall of Famer completed 19-of-39 passing attempts for 185 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a 13-10 win over the New York Jets on Thursday. 

Heading into Week 3, Brady is 48-for-91 for 473 yards with three scores and a pick.

His completion percentage of 52.7 is the lowest over a two-game stretch since the beginning of the 2006 season when he started 26 for 52 against—oddly enough—the Bills and Jets. 

Now, regardless of who's to blame for the lower-then-usual completion percentage and non-Brady-like stats, here's a look at the catch percentages of the New England pass-catchers through two weeks, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required):

Patriots Catch Percentages
Targets Receptions Catch Percentage
Julian Edelman 27 20 74.1
Danny Amendola 14 10 71.4
Shane Vereen 10 7 70
Kenbrell Thompkins 20 6 30
Aaron Dobson 10 3 30
Totals 81 46 56.7

ProFootballFocus

Compare those figures to the catch percentages of Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead over the past three years, and even with a large disparity in sample size, there's a stark contrast in efficiency:

Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead Catch Percentages (2010-2012 Average)
Targets Receptions Catch Percentage
Wes Welker 156 108.6 69.65
Danny Woodhead 43.3 30.6 70.8
Totals 199.3 139.2 69.8

ProFootballFocus

Brady misses Rob Gronkowski. He misses Aaron Hernandez (on the field) and Welker. There's no doubting that. 

Amendola and Vereen—who are both injured—and especially Edelman, have been reliable in their roles with the Patriots thus far. During the small amount of time they've been on the field in the 2013 season, they seem to have Brady's trust. 

But the youthful complements have been extremely inconsistent, something that wouldn't bode well for any offense and certainly not New England's high-efficiency, up-tempo attack. 

Brady can make every throw. We've seen him do it time and time again. However, when Bill Belichick realized Welker's untapped potential and traded for him in 2007, New England's offense prominently featured a relatively high percentage of short passes. 

Here's a look at Brady's Yards-In-Air figures compared to some of the NFL's best quarterbacks, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required):

Yards-In-Air Figures for NFL's Top QBs (2010-2012 Averages)
Total Passing Yards Yards-In-Air % of Passing Yards Which Came Before The Catch
Tom Brady 4,654 2,439.3 52.4
Aaron Rodgers 4,291 2,359 54.9
Peyton Manning 4,679.5 2,857.5 61.0
Drew Brees 5,095.6 2,893.3 56.7
Matt Ryan 4,200.3 2,526 60.1

ProFootballFocus

Basically, Brady has relied upon and gotten a higher percentage of yards-after-the-catch production from his receivers than the other premier signal-callers in the NFL over the past three seasons. 

With the athleticism, elusiveness and reliability of Welker, Woodhead and Hernandez, the Patriots would have been foolish not to resort to a YAC-predicated passing offense.

USA TODAY Sports
It's only been two games, but now, thanks to injuries, the Patriots don't appear to have the pass-catching talent to field that type of high-percentage, YAC-based attack. 

The Welker contract battle in New England was drawn-out and, well, ugly. 

Per ESPN Boston, "the Patriots' last offer to Welker before free agency was two years for $10 million with incentives that could have increased it to $16 million." Welker ended up signing with the Denver Broncos for two years, $12 million. 

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, his Broncos contract includes "$150,000 in incentives in each year if he catches 90 passes." 

Will the Patriots ultimately regret letting Welker and Woodhead go?

Submit Vote vote to see results
It'll never be known why the Patriots didn't offer more or why Welker didn't settle for less money to stay put, but as it currently stands, New England probably would have been better off if they offered a bit more money to keep its offensive centerpiece in town. 

Obviously, Woodhead wasn't nearly as integral as Welker; however, the two-year, $3.5 million contract he signed to join the San Diego Chargers wasn't exactly lucrative. 

Maybe Thompkins, Dobson and Josh Boyce will eventually establish connections with Brady. Maybe when Rob Gronkowski comes back, everything will change for the better. The returns of Amendola and Vereen will help, too.

But for the time being, the Patriots are likely thinking they made a mistake when they decided to move on from Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead this offseason. 

 

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