bill-swift - August 29, 2012
The notion may sound a little crazy when you're talking about a guy that has caught 110 or more passes for three consecutive years (the only player in NFL history to do so) and four of the last five. Wes Welker is arguably one, of if not the best possession receiver to play the game.
However, his talent and ability to contribute are not in question. It's just a matter of whether the New England Patriots need him bad enough to pay him what he is worth.
After a season with 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns it would seem like a no-brainer that Wes Welker should be signed to a lucrative long-term contract at the earliest possible time. The Patriots decided otherwise and placed the franchise tag on Welker instead.
This resulted in a one-year offer worth the average of the top-5 wide receivers in the league-- $9.515 million. Not bad, right? Welker may not factor into the team's plan enough to warrant that or the long-term deal that he coveted in the off-season.
The Patriots have pretty much been a passing team ever since the Brady Era began over a decade ago. Last season the team discovered a pair of players that will pretty much make Welker obsolete going forward--tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Last season the dynamic duo set an NFL record for production by a tight end combo in a single season with 169 receptions, 2,237 yards, and 24 touchdowns. That equates to just over 13 yards a reception; perfect for the ball control/ methodical passing style of the New England Patriots.
With the success that Gronkowski and Hernandez had last season it is understandable (and expected) for the Patriots to utilize a two-tight end set often this year. When that happens the slot receiver is typically the one that comes off the field, which for the Patriots that is the role filled by Welker.
When it comes down to it, thanks to the dynamic duo of Gronkowski (23-years old) and Hernandez (22-years old) the Patriots simply don't need Welker anymore. They have younger players that are bigger, stronger, and just as talented that can do the same job Welker did.
It is not unusual of course for a player to have a fantastic season one year and never live up to that standard again (i.e. Braylon Edwards). The Patriots likely brought Welker back this year as a safety blanket just in case either of their two stud tight ends falter or get hurt.
An argument could be made that Welker is simply too valuable; after all he had 122 receptions last season! While his value is not in question, his stats were likely inflated due to the lack of a running game and the absence of a deep threat. New England thinks they have an answer this season to both.
The team thinks highly of second year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Danny Woodhead has proven to be quite capable as well. They have also signed Olympic sprinter and former Florida running back Jeff Demps who will likely get some carries. As for the deep threat, the team signed Brandon Lloyd to fill that role.
With the team possibly looking to run the ball better and spread the field there will only be so much need for possession type receivers. Since Hernandez and Gronkowski are also both athletic enough to split out and go down field as well Welker has become expendable.
Since the Patriots have invested $94 million in Gronkowsi (6-yr, $54 million) and Hernandez (5-yr, $40 million) it is safe to say that the writing is on the wall for Wes Welker.