The New England Patriots and their star wide receiver Wes Welker spent the entirety of this last offseason in negotiations over a contract extension. After months of negotiating, the team and the prized free agent were unable to come to terms forcing the Patriots to place the franchise tag on him. On Wednesday Welker was named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl further raising the price.
If one thing has been learned by the Patriots the last few years it’s that not every receiver can cope in the Patriots offense. After the departure of Randy Moss in 2010, the Patriots have struggled to find his replacement. In 2011 they signed Chad Johnson but he only recorded 15 receptions all year leading to his release. This year they have tried another former Pro Bowler in Brandon Lloyd. While Lloyd has been solid during parts of the season and has played very well recently, he’s also struggled at times this year.
Welker joined the Patriots for the 2007 season. Since joining the Patriots he’s accumulated over 100 receptions and over 1,000 reception yards in each year except 2010. Even after starting the season as the third receiver, he’s outplayed the rest of the Patriots receiving corps and is once again Tom Brady’s favorite target. Making matters worse for the Patriots is that of the five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons that Welker has had, the last two have been arguably his best years.
Heading into this coming offseason the Patriots will have to find a way to re-sign Welker. They’ve experimented with several receivers over the past few years with very few working. And none have matched the production of Welker. With no certainty that another receiver could duplicate both the numbers of Welker and the chemistry with Brady, the Patriots can’t afford to lose him.
Being selected to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl and playing at the highest level of his career, the Patriots have created a problem. While the team probably thought Welker’s stock couldn’t rise any higher, it has. With his production this year and the fact that they couldn’t agree to terms last offseason, Welker is likely to cost the Patriots even more than he would have last year. But with few options in replacements, they can’t afford not to bring him back in 2013.