Welker has been ruled out for Thursday's AFC West clash with the San Diego Chargers, per ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold:
Wes Welker's official Out status for tomorrow's game was never a question this week.— Jeff Legwold (@Jeff_Legwold) December 11, 2013
That comes as no surprise, because the league's protocol dictates that a player who suffers a concussion in the previous game can't be cleared to fully practice until the subsequent Friday.
The latest concussion for the star receiver came in the first half of Week 14's victory over the Tennessee Titans. Welker's previous one was on Nov. 17 against the Kansas City Chiefs, as documented by the Denver Post's Nick Groke.
Denver sits at 11-2 and atop the AFC standings, but is only one game ahead of the New England Patriots, who have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos.
But this issue is bigger than the win-loss column. The coming years of advanced research are likely to unearth some ugly truths about head injuries in football. For now, it is better to err on the side of caution than the alternative.
Renowned sportswriter Jeff Pearlman even implored Welker to retire in a recent column on his website, citing concerns about CTE (Warning: Article contains some NSFW language).
When should Wes Welker return?
With his amazing quickness and knack for getting open underneath, Welker has made a living devastating opponents in the short passing game as a weapon in the slot. Playing with cerebral quarterbacks in Tom Brady and now Peyton Manning has only aided that.
Going over the middle, despite the emphasis modern rules have on protecting offensive players, is as dangerous as ever with how big, strong and fast defenders are today.
Leaving a player like Welker, who is 5'9" and 185 pounds, vulnerable to that punishment even in Week 16 or the regular-season finale would be rather irresponsible.
From a football standpoint, Manning has plenty of other targets to keep the Broncos' No. 1 scoring offense operating at a high level. More important, with Welker having two concussions in such a short time period, there is the danger of residual effects—à la post-concussion syndrome.
Since concussions still aren't fully understood, it is difficult to project how each individual will react to their impact.
According to MayoClinic.com, post-concussion syndrome can last for weeks or even months after the injury is sustained. The site also lists the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, which are as follows:
- Loss of concentration and memory
- Noise and light sensitivity
Most if not all of these would have a significant impact on Welker's ability to perform on the gridiron—much less look out for his own well-being.
Of course, there's no certainty that Welker has this disorder. It's also worth bearing in mind that he knows his body best. Having said that, he could be susceptible to this syndrome given the hazards presented by his job description.
The NFL and its teams have taken steps to protect players more than ever in recent years.
No matter what type of expertise is involved, the Broncos are in the fortunate position to allot Welker the time to recuperate and get closer to 100 percent.
Even if they weren't such a fixture in the postseason race, though, Welker's health should be the interest that trumps all others here. Not wins or losses. Not selling tickets. Not home-field advantage throughout the playoffs or Super Bowl trophies. Safety.