Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Players, Execs Worried About Wes Welker's Return

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 11, 2015

Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker (83) lands on the ground after being unable to make a catch against Indianapolis Colts cornerback Darius Butler (20) during the second quarter in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

1. 'I'm really scared for Wes'

When news started to surface that Wes Welker was returning to football, calls and texts from players and executives around the league came in. One simply said: "Told you so." 

This was a front-office executive who knows Welker well and predicted to me, months ago, that Welker would be back, despite estimates from several team officials who know Welker's medical history that he has had as many as 10 concussions in his NFL career.

Why would Welker risk more head injuries, with all we now know about the cumulative effect of concussions? Why would a team allow him to? The "Told you so" texter said Welker would just find it too difficult to retire, and a team would get desperate enough to overlook his concussion history.

"I'm really scared for Wes," the executive added in a later text.

This sentiment was echoed by other players, several team executives and league officials I spoke to, all of whom said they wished Welker hadn't signed with the Rams or any other team.

"I hope he just gets through this OK," said one former teammate.

I don't know how many of these sources, or others, have spoken to Welker and asked him directly to not play, but I think some have.

Welker has taken great care of his finances, I'm told by a source close to him, and isn't coming back because he needs the money. He has plenty of money. Welker is coming back because many players, especially the great ones like him, have a hard time leaving football. Even in cases like Welker's where his concussion history makes the game more dangerous than it already is.

Welker returns to football at an interesting moment in time. Even in the short time he's been away from the game—Welker hasn't played since January—head trauma awareness has grown. The league office is more careful and aware than ever.

But there remains a bottom-line element to the sport, a cold one, an unfortunate one. When a player with numerous concussions wants to play and a team wants him, no one can stop either party. And neither party seems to care about the potential repercussions.

The response I'll get is: Everyone knows football is risky. I'll get: If Welker isn't worried, why should anyone else be?

The answer is there are times when players need to be protected from themselves. Until recently, the NFL has been absolutely awful handling concussion issues. The league has gotten better, but there are still some players with—pardon the expression—their heads in the sand when it comes to the long-term dangers head trauma presents.

I still get the feeling a number of players are ignoring the issue. Not all. But a lot. I think Welker is one of them.

It's gotten to the point where people who know Welker will watch him play, crossing their fingers, hoping for the best.

 

2. Darrell Green: NFL needs 'greater level of consciousness'

Matt York/Associated Press

I've always disagreed with Darrell Green's view on the Washington team nickname (he's in favor of keeping it) but admired him otherwise as a human being and player. He's outstanding at both. He was one of the league's great citizens as a player.

I caught up with Green recently and asked him what he loved about the NFL now and what he didn't like.

"I wish the players, coaches, general managers and owners would have a greater level of consciousness," Green said.

He wouldn't list names, but we spoke just one day after the Greg Hardy photos were published by Deadspin. I also think Green included coaches, owners and front-office types because they are the ones making the decisions to employ turds like Hardy.

"I always walked out the front door remembering my mom, my dad, my high school coaches, my neighbors, everyone," he said, "and I never wanted to do anything that embarrassed them."

Then Green reiterated: "What I don't like are a lot of the things being displayed by players, coaches and general managers."

 

3. The Greg Hardy dilemma

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

One AFC general manager on Greg Hardy:

It shows one of the true issues facing the sport. The league has caught up on issues of domestic violence after being horrible on the issue for so long. The problem remains with some of the individual teams. The NFL can take a tough stance, but teams can still sign these guys. They want to sign them. We've gone from the league office not caring to them caring a lot to teams still wanting the Hardys of the world. As long as that exists, this will always be a problem. There isn't anything the league office can do about it.

 

4. Last Hardy note

Noticed a great many trolls crawling from under their various bridges and embankments to defend Hardy. Many of them Cowboys fans. Many of them coming at me on Twitter.

Just one quick reminder: Hardy is 6'5", 280 pounds. At his combine, he benched 225 pounds 21 times.

Something to keep in mind. OK, thanks.

 

5. This is what privilege looks like

NFL owner uses security goons to block off bathroom at publicly funded NFL stadium so he's the only one who can use it:

Let them eat cake.

 

6. Could Marcus Mariota break rookie record?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 08:  Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans participates in warmups prior to a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 8, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Titans won the game in over
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Marcus Mariota has 13 touchdown passes. That's pretty damn good—halfway to the rookie record of 26, held by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson. I don't think Mariota's going to reach the record, but that's one hell of a start.

Oh, and the NFL says Mariota is the first rookie in league history to have two games with four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He had four touchdowns in the season opener.

 

7. One of the greatest stats from the season

It comes from ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, via Steelers PR. Please read it again and again and again.

I'm just going to let that one simmer for a moment.

 

8. Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl?

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 08:   Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after defeating the Green Bay Packers 37-29 at Bank of America Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Bengals, Patriots and Panthers are all 8-0. What does this mean? Good chance two of them reach the Super Bowl.

From the NFL: "Entering 2015, 21 teams started a season 8-0 during the Super Bowl era. Of those 21 clubs, all 21 made the playoffs, 12 advanced to the Super Bowl and eight of those teams won the Super Bowl."

So history says the Panthers have a 57 percent chance to make the Super Bowl. That's good odds. The Bengals and Patriots have those odds, too, but only one of them can go. Since the Patriots always go to the damn Super Bowl, are we shaping up to have a Carolina-New England championship?

 

9. And now to the funniest thing from the weekend

This made me laugh because I'm a child. It's one of the better GIFs you'll ever see. I think even Aaron Rodgers would find it humorous.

 

10. The Pats will win despite injuries

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 08:   Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on after the Patriots 27-10 win over the Washington Redskins at Gillette Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Patriots lose offensive linemen, and they keep winning. They lose Dion Lewis, and it doesn't matter either. It won't matter as long as they have Tom Brady.

The Patriots have scored in 31 straight quarters, tying an NFL record. They've had 38 red-zone trips and scored in all but one. Brady makes this team go, and as long as he's healthy, they'll keep winning.

 

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.