The lines were pretty easy to read through on this one. The Patriots don’t think Wes Welker has much left in the tank and were more than willing to let him walk to an AFC rival. How else can one explain giving Danny Amendola a bigger contract?
Not to rip on Amendola’s potential here, but the Patriots got this one wrong and will regret letting one, of if not the best, receiver in franchise history leave.
It’s hard to imagine how the team envisions Welker eroding into a shell of his former self. Sure he’s taken quite a few hits over the years but he has been one of the most durable and reliable players in the entire NFL in his six years with the Patriots. Simply put, Welker still brings more to the table than any other player the team brings in to play the slot and has shown no signs of slowing down, as is evident in his 118 reception, 1,354 yard season in 2012.
The seeds of a Welker departure were planted last offseason and early last season. On opening day against the Titans, Welker saw a reduced role in the offense and did not see his playing time increase until Aaron Hernandez went down with a knee injury in week two. It now seems obvious that the team was trying to prepare for life without Welker.
This move does not look like a contract squabble. The Patriots correctly predicted the market for Welker, better than Welker himself as a two-year $10M contract was closer to what Welker was going to get than the three-year $24M deal he wanted. But just because the team knew the market better is not an excuse to let him go. They still could have brought him back at a contract less than three-years and $24M.
Since 2007 Welker has been Tom Brady’s favorite target and safety valve. Wes Welker is to Tom Brady what Ben Coates was to Drew Bledsoe, albiet with a lot more weapons around him. Whenever Brady goes through his checks, finds that his first option is covered, he can always find Welker. And find Welker he did to the tune of 572 catches, 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns since 2007.
Calling Welker simply a safety valve would be unfair as he can run a variety of pass patterns and is more willing to go over the middle and take a shot than most receivers in the league. Lets see how Amendola reacts to the first shot he takes in the middle of the field, because he is going to have to take a few.
No player in the NFL has more receptions in that time than Welker. The Patriots think a player who has seen a full 16 game schedule once in his career can replace that production? Not a chance.
Welker also had an uncanny chemistry with Tom Brady, the type of chemistry that does not come around often and that only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison have produced over the last 15 years. A lot of the catches Welker makes are on receiver option routes, a route where Welker reads the coverage and makes his move based on where the defense is playing him. He and Brady run these routes to perfection, better than any receiver Brady has ever played with.
There was a notion going around that the Patriots could survive the loss of Welker by upgrading the defense. But with the team paying Amendola $31M over six years that point became moot. The Patriots can still improve that defense but it turns out they could still upgrade the defense and bring Welker back into the fold.
Amendola is an adequate replacement, and could end up thriving in New England. He has a lot of upside, he’s faster than Welker, he has good hands and he can make more plays after the catch and down the field.
But he is simply not Welker. He does not know the offense, he does not know Tom Brady inside and out and he has not been able to stay on the field. But with the money the team has thrown at him Amendola now needs to produce for the Patriots offense, over a full 16 weeks.
With the Patriots window for another Super Bowl title closing, I’d say they have two, maybe three years left at the top of the league, having two years of Welker is better for the team’s chances than five years of Amendola.
Yes the Patriots offense will still be at or near the top of the league in 2013 as will the Patriots team as a whole. They are still good enough to win a Super Bowl and may even do so this coming season. But make no mistake about it, the offense will take a hit with Welker playing in Denver.
The AFC is the Patriots or Broncos to lose at this point, here’s hoping Welker isn’t the difference in the Broncos winning or the Patriots losing.