Whenever a major event happens that carries an outcome that we are generally upset at, we tend to quickly point fingers and blame a side for causing such an event to transpire. This is the case with Wes Welker‘s decision to sign with the Denver Broncos instead of the New England Patriots, and I’ve seen fans blame Welker, his agents, or the Patriots organization for not getting a deal done.
First off, let me start by saying the Patriots did indeed want Welker back. Robert Kraft said it a few times, and the Pats preferred to keep Welker. Now, as for Welker, he also wanted to remain in New England. This wasn’t a case where one side was dead set on leaving, but there were disagreements and events that conjured up into a storm that Teshub would have been proud of.
Welker received a two-year offer worth $10 million from the New England Patriots, and incentives could have made the deal worth $16 million over those two seasons. We know that thanks to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, and interestingly enough Reiss wrote about a month ago that he thought $16 million over two years as a flat rate was a fair deal for Welker.
Let me start off by saying that Welker’s agents did exaggerate things by saying his offer was “laughably” or “substantially” low, depending on where you received word from. Welker’s actual contract ($5 million per year) was lower than his market value, but the incentives made the deal satiable.
Here’s the issue, though, Welker’s camp is paranoid about that whole incentive thing. After the Julian Edelman experiment earlier last season to see if Edelman could adequately replace Welker, Welker felt insecure about his future role with the Pats and was afraid that he would not match those incentives. Personally, I think he was being too paranoid about that, but some of his concerns were justifiable. Now here is where things get interesting.
So Welker’s camp pretty much told the Patriots, “Alright, we’re going to see if we can get better, because we want the best guaranteed money. Welker is 32, and he isn’t going to deal with all those uncertain variables.” They searched for offers, and Reiss stated that they received two; one from the Denver Broncos and another from an unnamed team.
That unnamed team gave Welker his most lucrative offer with a contract worth around $15 million for two seasons, but Welker rejected them. So wait, he rejected the team that was paying him the most money? I thought Welker was in it for the money? Not so, Welker still wanted to play for a contender, and there was no way he would move backward just for more money. While Welker wanted to get the pay day he never received in his career, he also wants a ring more. If he were to leave the situation he had in New England, then he wasn’t just going to bolt for some random team.
Now, the Denver Broncos offer was the most intriguing one. The Broncos were the only team outside of New England to be a great fit for Welker, because they have the elite quarterback, the contending team, and the offensive scheme to make Welker a huge option for them in the passing game. And you know what else? They beat the Patriots flat-rate offer by giving Welker $12 million over two years.
But the Patriots play hardball, and playing hardball means you don’t wait for others. Playing hardball means you look the other guy and say, “You wanna play rough? Okay!”, and that’s exactly what the Patriots do better than anyone. They’ve let other great Patriots like Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri leave, and they weren’t about to make Welker an exception.
This isn’t because they hate Welker or don’t value him, but it’s because the Patriots couldn’t afford to take any risks. And by risks, I mean that they couldn’t afford to completely strike out in the slot. If you think it’s difficult for them to explain to Tom Brady how they let Welker go, imagine how hard it would have been for them to say, “Hey Tom? We didn’t even get a Plan B for you. Have a nice year buddy!”
All along, Danny Amendola was their Plan B. While he isn’t as good or durable as the original (Welker), Amendola is a pretty damn good sequel. And plus, there isn’t a better slot receiver who could replace Welker and keep things going for the Patriots. Amendola is also younger and offers that precious word “upside”, which might make up for his lack of durability. And by the way, durability is not synonymous with tough- Amendola is one tough dude.
Anyway, the Patriots couldn’t afford to lose both Amendola and Welker, because then they would have to scrap their entire scheme or rely on Edelman or some rookie. The Edelman experiment failed last year in the slot, because Edelman isn’t a true slot receiver. He can play there, but he’s best left to do what he did against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving- make plays as a versatile WR and not a move-the-chains guy. Edelman’s durability is also in question, as he broke his hand and foot last year.
So the Pats had to ensure the signing of somebody, and I have a feeling they presumed Welker would sign elsewhere and were afraid that Amendola would sign soon. Therefore, they decided to give Amendola five years and $31 million to be their new featured slot receiver. Meanwhile, good ol’ Wes Welker was pondering his Broncos offer, and then he did something that proves Welker isn’t some greedy, selfish loser who hates New England and doesn’t give a crap about the team that “made him great”.
Welker came back to the Patriots and asked, “Can you guys match/top this?” I think the Patriots would have, but they already signed Amendola; they already decided that they needed to guarantee signing one player. The Patriots did mess up, in my opinion, by not giving Welker that extra guaranteed $1 million. It’s going to hurt the team, but it’s not catastrophic at all. The Patriots can definitely cope with this loss, especially if they draft a receiver who can stretch the field or (if they decided to make an uncharacteristically bold move a la Miami) they could replace Brandon Lloyd with Greg Jennings to get a true No. 1 wideout.
Either way, let’s not pain either side as a villain here- this was a “perfect storm” where certain variables were miscalculated only because hindsight is 20/20. Imagine if Amendola signed and Welker didn’t ask the Pats to match the offer. What would happen then? Even though this wasn’t the desirable outcome, losing out on both guys would have been far worse. The Patriots took the safe path, and all we can do is hope that Amendola stays healthy and tears it up like Welker has. We should also wish Welker the best, even though we want to absolutely destroy the Broncos next year. Not because we think any less of Welker, but because we’d want to destroy any team that crosses our path- especially one quarterbacked by Peyton Manning.
And hey Broncos fans, you guys have been great welcoming Welker in Denver- enjoy having the game’s best slot receiver. You guys are a great fan base (not quite as good as New England’s though) and deserve to have him.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.