Heading into the off-season, we all knew that there was a chance Wes Welker had played his last game as a Patriot. We also knew that if Wes signed with another team, the Pats had the inside track on replacing him with St. Louis' Danny Amendola. Still, you can color me stunned at the events that played out today. The rumored deal that the Patriots had offered was supposedly in the neighborhood of $16 million over two years. I had assumed that Wes was shopping for a deal closer to $9 million/season or a longer-term deal and if he could find a sucker GM to pay him that kind of cash at the cusp of turning 32, then more power to him. When news broke that Denver had nabbed him for $12 million over two years, my jaw dropped.
How could the Patriots not have matched that offer, which was by all accounts well below the assumed value for somebody with Welker's track record?
How would Tom Brady feel about signing his below-market extension to free up more cap space only to have his #1 target get snatched up on a relatively cheap contract?
Had something gone so sour between the Patriots and Welker during his contract negotiations that he was outright refusing to sign with the team?
Wes Welker was the definition of a New England Patriot. He put up stats that have never been matched in NFL history. He has a chemistry with Tom Brady like no other. He is one of the most durable players in the history of the league. How could the Patriots let him walk away and take a relatively unimpressive deal to play with Peyton Manning for what very well may be New England's biggest threat in the AFC next season?
The only answer that makes any sense is that the Patriots simply did not want him. Or perhaps more specifically, they only wanted him back if they could milk him for a "value" contract like the one they got Tom Brady to sign a few weeks back. It was $5 million per year over two years for Wes, or nothing. All along they had Danny Amendola waiting in the wings, ready to sign a long-term deal that will pay him more per year than Wes just got from Denver. From the perspective of Bill Belichick, I get it. It was a win-win for him either way. Keep Welker on a value contract, or replace him with a younger version of himself on a deal that will likely cost New England less cap space in this current year that can go towards bolstering other areas of need.
Still, even as one of the most die-hard Patriots fans, who truly believes that no one is above the team, I have to say that this was a cold blooded move by the New England front office. This was not Adam Vinatieri leaving for a richer contract with the Colts than New England felt comfortable offering a kicker. This was not the franchise tag staredowns that they had with Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins. This was the New England Patriots giving a player who was called "the heart and soul" of the team, a player who Robert Kraft said he would like to see retire as a Patriot, a first-ballot lock for the Patriots Hall of Fame, a player who caught more balls than any other in franchise history over a span of just six seasons, a player who blew out his ACL in Week 17 and hustled his way back for opening day, a player they franchise tagged with no long-term security the season before and then asked to get clocked on a routine basis going over the middle, and giving him an ultimatum of taking a near 50% paycut or finding a new team.
I hope the Patriots made the right call. The argument that Danny Amendola has his prime in front of him, while Welker's is behind him certainly has merit. The people who credit Troy Brown and Welker's success in the slot a product of the system, may have a point. But I also look at Amendola, who missed 20 games over the past two seasons, as well as the tandem of Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowksi, who also haven't been able to stay on the field, and can't help but worry that Tom Brady will be throwing the ball to guys like Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth, and Michael Hoomanawanui by December. Only time will tell.
Perhaps the Patriots will now go on a spending spree and pick up some serious value in free-agency to bolster the defense and wide receiver corps. In a few weeks, things may be looking very different. As for right now though, I can't say I'm thrilled with how things played out. I'm as loyal to the cause as they come, but I can't help but feel like the "Dark Lord" Belichick earned his nickname today.