Wes Welker didn’t take a leap of faith leaving Foxborough. He was pushed off a contractual cliff by the Patriots.
Welker and the Patriots were locked in a staring match, and instead of blinking, Welker simply turned his gaze out West to the Denver Broncos, who gave him a two-year, $12 million deal Wednesday. Staring contests are a waste of time, and so is trying to get the Patriots to value a player they feel owes them and not the other way around.
The PG version of this contract saga with an unhappy ending is that the Patriots never believed Welker had the temerity to leave Foxborough, his quarterback buddy Tom Brady, and the offense that made him a star. The risque version is that the team thought Welker didn’t have enough of what he catches to walk away.
He did, right into the waiting arm of Peyton Manning and the Rocky Mountain Colts.
This didn’t end well for either side. Both miscalculated and mismanaged the situation. In his last shot to cash in, Welker, who turns 32 in May, didn’t get the big payday he deserved.
The Patriots lost the leading receiver in franchise history over relative chump change ($2 million per season), swapping him for a more injury-prone, less accomplished doppelganger in Danny Amendola.
This feels like the football version of Johnny Damon being replaced by Coco Crisp.
Welker had the leverage to get paid last year if he held out. Instead his $9.515 million franchise-tag-signing leap of faith ended up as a contractual crash landing.
At every turn since 2009, when Welker changed agents and first started angling for a deal commensurate to his production, he backed off and backed down when negotiations broke down. He never publicly took the fight to the Patriots like Richard Seymour, Deion Branch, Asante Samuel, Vince Wilfork, or Logan Mankins. It cost him.
The lesson once again if you’re a Patriots veteran player who wants a raise is that you’d better be prepared to raise a stink. A conciliatory tone doesn’t get the Patriots’ attention; inflammatory rhetoric, defamatory statements, and withholding your services does.
TB12 must be thrilled about this. For the second time in his career, Brady has signed a team-friendly contract only to watch the team let his security blanket wideout wearing No. 83 leave town.
By the way, the iron-clad standing of that five-year, $57 million deal that Robert Kraft professed to Peter King was not the way influential folks in the Brady camp painted the deal.
I wouldn’t try to cross that moat Brady has in his palatial new Southern California manse if I were Belichick or the Krafts right now.
One of the first tenets of journalism is to follow the money, and if you do, you’ll see the Patriots didn’t value Welker.
They gave Amendola a reported $31 million over five years with $10 million guaranteed. Rob Gronkowski signed a six-year extension that averaged more than $9 million per season last June, and Aaron Hernandez inked a five-year extension that averaged nearly $8 million per season in August.
You always got the sense the Patriots felt Welker was beholden to them because they “discovered” him. He was their creation, a product of the nebulous “system.”
Systems don’t win games. Players do.
The Patriots love value, and Welker, who was signed to a five-year, $18.1 million contract when he was acquired by the Patriots in 2007, will go down as one of the biggest in team history, even if you throw in the money he made last year on the franchise tag.
No one in the NFL has caught more passes than Welker since 2007 (672). No one has more yards after the catch (4,034).
Last season he caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns, despite the Patriots’ bizarre attempts to phase him out in favor of Julian “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” Edelman.
Welker is the only receiver in NFL history to have five 100-catch seasons. His five 1,000-yard seasons are the most in Patriots history, and his 1,569 yards in 2011 are a franchise record.
To truly appreciate Welker, though, you had to see him after games, when the welts and bruises on his back resembled a Jackson Pollack painting of pain.
The diminutive pass catcher should be remembered for that remarkable toughness more than his failure to corral a pair of catchable balls in Super Bowl XLVI and this past season’s AFC Championship game.
My advice: start bubble-wrapping Amendola and Hernandez now, Bill.
The Patriots are rarely wrong when they let a player move on. They’ve made numerous controversial personnel decisions that looked dubious at the time and brilliant with the benefit of hindsight.
Welker for Amendola could be another.
It had better be, because the meter is running on Brady’s greatness, and New England has become a gridiron graveyard for new wide receivers.
Even players who have been in the “system” elsewhere, like Amendola and his former Rams teammate Brandon Lloyd, have failed to build a rapport with Brady on or off the field.
Welker and Randy Moss were the last two imports to develop Brady ESP, and that was six years ago.
The team drafts wide receivers the way the Red Sox select shortstops.
Maybe Welker is just a replaceable possession receiver, a rich man’s Amendola. But he’s in the possession of an AFC rival now.
Instead of backing up the Brink’s truck for Welker, the Patriots pushed him past the brink of no return.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.