Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is It Time To Say Goodbye To Welker?

This may sound crazy, but who needs who more?  Does Tom Brady need Wes Welker more, or is it the other way around?  Don't get me wrong, I know that Welker has helped this offense be the juggernaut that it is, but is he a necessary cog?  Is he a product of the system and the fact that he has one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game is what makes him the great receiver he is? 

Before you go crazy let me say that Wes Welker can still be one of the better receivers in the league.  He goes across the middle with reckless abandon.  He seems to be Brady's favorite target.  Why in God's name would you get rid of your star quarterback's favorite target?  He is second in all of the playoffs with 248 receiving yards.  He definitely gets his fair share of stats playing in this offense.  He finished with 118 catches on 174 targets which is a decent percentage.  Welker may have just come into his own when it comes to his production jump when coming from Miami to New England.  He may have just grown into the role of slot receiver and that explains why he went from 67 catches a year to over a hundred every year.  There is, however, a possibility that he is a product of a scheme. 

Welker is going to command anywhere between nine and ten million per year on the open market.  The Patriots are very weary of paying anyone that much on a long term deal.  They just spent big money to sign their two young tight ends to long term deals.  Between Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd they gave a total of $96,345,000 over the course of the contracts.  Do you really think that it will be worth it to spend another 50-60 million dollars to keep Welker?  Is it smart as a team to spend 150 million dollars on one aspect of your game?  The Patriots are smart enough to know that maybe it can find cheaper alternatives.  Welker is a great player, but will he be worth eight digits per year if he doesn't have crisp Tom Brady passes to catch? 

The Patriots are currently in for a little over 100 million dollars in salary for 2013.  This is what the amount is after you pass on the thirty-one free agents the Pats have coming off in the offseason.  New England has to find a way to re-sign/replace S Patrick Chung, CB Kyle Arrington, WR Julian Edelman, CB Aqib Talib, OT Sebastian Vollmer, and RB Danny Woodhead.  There are some significant players there and they also have to worry about upgrading their secondary.  They need to fill out their roster that they will be missing with those players gone somewhere else.  It just doesn't seem like the team can afford to pay Welker and keep the key players they have.  Last year's salary cap was set at 120.6 million dollars and this year's cap is set to become 121 million dollars.  With those numbers the Patriots will only have roughly 20 million dollars to spend on free agents and rookies. 

One other thing is the amount of hits that Welker has taken up until now.   He has caught 741 passes between the regular and postseason.  Add in the twenty-one rushes, thirteen kickoff returns and the 122 punt returns he has had and he has touched the ball a total of 897 times.  Of those times he has scored 41 times.  That says that he has been hit at least 856 times.  If you add in the roughly 25% of the targets he doesn't catch in which he gets hit then you add an extra 69 hits to that total.  Wes Welker has been hit an approximate total of 925 times in a six year span.  These aren't baby hits either, these are run across the middle and forget where you are kind of hits.  He can only do that for so long.

There are some receivers on the open market that seem to be something the Patriots should look into.  Between big play makers and strict possession receivers, there are plenty for New England to choose from.  We will start with the possession receivers who could make Welker's departure an easy one.  You could start with Edelman.  He started for Welker in 2009 as a rookie and was very good.  In the game against the Texans he caught ten passes for over a hundred yards.  In the playoff game against the Ravens he caught the Pats only two touchdowns.  Also last year he caught 65% of passes thrown his was, which was only one percent less than Welker's average.  He will also be the cheapest alternative.  Also on the market this season are Welker clones Danny Amendola and Brian Hartline.  Amendola may be a little bit of an injury risk, but that could have been since he was the only option in St Louis.  He is in his fourth year and he has already shown he can catch a ton of balls.  His numbers don't look extremely impressive, but a receiver is only as good as his quarterback.  If Amendola will come at a reasonable price he will be worth much more than the risk you take by signing him.  Hartline is the interesting option.  He seems to keep getting better every year.  He has been a Dolphin for four years.  In those four years, he has tried to gain chemistry with Chad Pennington, then Chad Henne, then Pennington again, then briefly Tyler Thigpen, Henne one more time, then Matt Moore, and now Ryan Tannehill.  You can't really call that consistency.  I think he would do a lot better with Brady at the helm all those years.

If you get essentially the same guy for cheaper in Edelman, Hartline or Amendola, then you have extra money to spend elsewhere.  If they are willing to take the hit for cutting their losses on Brandon Lloyd and going for a legitimate deep threat, then there are a few interesting options.  People will always bring up a return by Randy Moss, but he isn't the player he once was.  Mike Wallace is going on the market, but he is asking for a $100 million dollar contract and the Pats won't come close to that.  One person who is very interesting is Greg Jennings.  He knows what it is like to be the guy with one of the best quarterbacks and he has speed for days.  The fact that he missed half the season will hurt his value, which will be a good thing for the Patriots.  If they can get his talent for 70 cents on the dollar because he got injured in one season then they need to jump at the chance.  Another guy who could do wonders in this offense is Dwayne Bowe.  He is like the NFL's dirty secret over in Kansas City.  Bowe has the talent to be one of the best receivers in the league with some of the worst QB's throwing to him.  If he had Brady then he would be in good shape.

One outside of the box option could be to trade for Deshaun Jackson.  He is an Andy Reid guy and Reid is out in Philadelphia.  He isn't the most fitting of Chip Kelly's offense and his cap number isn't terrible.  He has break neck speed and would be the best weapon Brady has had since his undefeated season with Moss.  He does raise questions about character, but that has been something Bill Belichick has fixed in the past.  Somehow winning causes players to forget about why they were whining.  He would be the best option if the Eagles were willing to part with him.

In sports we tend to think with our guts and our hearts.  No doubt Welker has brought more than humanly expected to this organization and deserves to be compensated for it.  Unfortunately for Wes, it isn't the smartest move for this organization.  They need someone who has not had so much damage to his 5 foot 9 inch, 185 pound frame.  There are options.  These options will not cost ten million dollars every year.  Hopefully, these options will not drop crucial third down passes in the playoffs.  It is easy to forgive one drop that turns a game around, but two is becoming a trend. 

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