Call it doing smart business. Call it a perfect time to move in another direction. Call it arrogance from an egotistical head coach. Just don’t call it a good football decision. Don’t you dare!
Late Wednesday afternoon, the New England Patriots lost star wide receiver Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos via free agency. Not only does Welker’s new home represent the absolute worst possible scenario for the Patriots, but it also demonstrates a definite shift in power in the AFC.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Broncos have agreed to sign Welker to a two-year deal worth $12 million. For a guy who has averaged 112 receptions over the last six seasons, that number seems like a steal. Apparently, though, the Patriots didn’t think so. Or perhaps they were just too stubborn to acknowledge what everyone else seems to view as fact: Welker is the best slot receiver in the history of the game.
Welker, now 32 years old, has been an integral part of the offense in New England since joining the team in 2007. From that point, no other receiver in the NFL has caught more passes. His five 100-catch seasons are an NFL record. Proving to be remarkably durable for having such a small frame football-wise, Welker has missed just four games during that span—even after suffering a torn ACL in the final 2009 regular season game.
Allowing Welker to walk makes absolutely no sense for the Patriots and fans across New England should be outraged. He allowed the Patriots the opportunity to match the Broncos’ offer, but his former team would not budge from their $10 million proposal. That is utterly ridiculous.
Two weeks ago, quarterback Tom Brady restructured his contract to free up an extra $15 million in cap space. The Patriots just allowed Welker to leave over a paltry $2 million. That’s insane. This is the guy who’s been the backbone of the best offense in football for the last six years. This is a guy who’s made a living racking up yards after the catch. This is a guy who’s been to five straight Pro Bowls,and is a two-time first team all-pro. I just don’t get it.
We’re talking about $2 million here–$1 million per season!
NFL experts all over the country have called Patriots head coach and head of team operations Bill Belichick a “football genius”. He’s certainly earned that moniker over the years, but in this case, it’s quite the opposite. Belichick missed the mark with Welker. He missed it badly. Rather than just match the Broncos’ offer for minimal extra dollars, he decided to dismantle the offense that has set the benchmark in the NFL for half a decade.
Who will replace Welker? That’s easy. No one. There is literally no other person in the NFL who can do what Welker does. It’s that simple. And don’t even think about saying Danny Amendola or Aaron Hernandez because neither of the two can stay healthy. That’s a fact. The Patriots cannot replace Welker’s production. They can’t replace his heart and toughness. They have absolutely no chance of ever replacing the extraordinary chemistry that he had with Brady. Their offense will absolutely suffer because of this.
Belichick and the Patriots botched this up. Though the Broncos were the number one seed in the 2012 playoffs, they weren’t necessarily ever the favorites to win due to their soft schedule. That will change in 2013. Both the Baltimore Ravens and the Patriots have gotten worse thus far in the off-season. With one free agent signing, the Broncos have gotten significantly better.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)