Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Opinion: Reading into Wes Welker Saga

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft made some strong comments after Wes Welker‘s agent told CSNNE’s Tom E. Curran that the New England Patriots never offered Wes Welker a contract and never wanted Welker in the first place. Kraft fired back by reiterating (for the third time) that he and the Patriots wanted Welker back, and that the Pats did offer Welker a deal. What Kraft said fell right in line with Mike Reiss’s excellent version of the story on ESPN Boston, and Kraft’s statements seemed more plausible.

Welker’s representatives have added a new layer to the story by telling NFL.com that the Patriots sent Wes Welker just one offer and it was of the “take it or leave it” variety. That would mean the Patriots didn’t want Welker as badly as Kraft is saying they did, and I feel obligated to spit my take on this.

I believe the Patriots wanted to keep Wes Welker. I also believe the Patriots were only going to bring back Welker at their price. We all know that the Patriots offered Welker $10 million over two years, and the people who point at this number and say, “Well, they gave him less than the Denver Broncos did, which means they didn’t actually pay him market value” are ignoring the fact that incentives could have made the deal worth $16 million.

Looking at Welker’s past production, he would have almost certainly met whatever those incentives were. The deal the Pats gave Welker was actually better financially than the deal the Broncos gave Welker, but that statement does not hold true when looking at what Welker really wanted. His own agent said to to CSNNE, they wanted the guaranteed cash. $10 million guaranteed didn’t cut it for Welker’s camp, and they decided to see what else they could get. Heck, I have a feeling they would have tested the market even if the Pats gave $16 million in guaranteed money, because that seemed to be their mentality going forward.

And you know what? That’s the right mentality to have. An agent should want to put his client in the best position to get a pay day, and it wouldn’t have been “due diligence” for Welker’s camp to avoid testing the open market. That said, Welker’s camp sorely miscalculated their client’s value. The going rate for a slot receiver is not nearly as high as the going rate for “normal” wide receivers, and whether or not that is justified doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, the market dictates what  a player should be paid, and a legitimate NFL organization cannot afford to significantly exceed those bounds out of sheer emotion.

Seriously, paying a guy significantly (not just a little…but significantly) more than what he is worth solely based on emotional ties is a dangerous game, and smart front offices avoid falling into that trap. The Patriots run a more than competent operation, and it would have been foolish for them to give Welker too much money just because of their love for Welker. With the flat cap and the teams pressing needs on defense, the Patriots were not in a position to give too much money to one player. They still aren’t.

I don’t think the Patriots said that it was a “take it or leave it” offer in those words, but I bet that’s how it came off to Welker. I think his camp was looking for something more than that (remember, Welker had never tested the open market to see what his 100-receptions would garner), so they naturally thought it was a harsh deal and fit the “take it or leave it” sense. Or maybe the Patriots did tell Welker that it was a “take it or leave it” kind of thing.

And I don’t think it’s because the Patriots didn’t want him, but rather because the Pats were pressed for time. They had only one backup option, and that was Danny Amendola, who Kraft noted was receiving some significant offers. So the Pats knew they couldn’t wait for Welker to come to a decision or balk at a softer-than-anticipated market, because they thought Amendola would leave by then. They couldn’t risk losing out on Plan A and Plan B, and thus they decided not to risk waiting for Welker and losing Amendola (or worse, both).

I guess they were afraid that Welker wouldn’t come back to them to match a new offer, and it is certainly possible that they did have a “take it or leave it” deal (if Welker doesn’t accept on our terms, we’ll just get Amendola). The Patriots may have miscalculated Welker’s motives, because he wasn’t all about the money. Welker- cutting his agents aside- wanted to play for a contender, and that’s why he rejected the Tennessee Titans $15 million over two years. He wanted to play for either the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots, because those are two contenders who fit his skillset perfectly (the Pats better than the Broncos, at that).

So Welker received a two-year deal worth $12 million from the Broncos, and that was, in his eyes, better than the Patriots offer. Why? That guaranteed money carried the day for him, and I bet it has something to do with paranoia over his role after the Julian Edelman experiment. If so, then that means Welker was being too paranoid, and I strongly believe his camp overvalued how much guaranteed money he would get.

Welker received his deal from Denver and then came back to the Patriots to see if they could match the offer; they said no. Some are misconstruing this “no” and are making it out to look like the Patriots never wanted Welker and had a very strict “take it or leave it” mindset. But the Patriots said no to Welker because they couldn’t say yes- they had already signed Danny Amendola. They already made the choice that they wanted to at least get something instead of nothing, and that conservative approach (don’t take any risks on this situation) was also, paradoxically, a risk- they are banking on Amendola to replace Welker.

Would the Patriots have bumped up their offer to match the Broncos? I honestly think they would have done some creative math to do that. $2 million in guaranteed money isn’t much, and I have a feeling the Pats would have shaved off the incentives and given that deal instead. The Patriots plan to give incentives was wise, whilst Welker’s declining of the incentives showed that he was also taking a conservative approach that had paradoxical risks as a side effect.

Below are some quick-hit notes out of all this.

1. Welker wanted to stay with the Patriots, and the Patriots wanted to keep him.

2. There’s really no point in blaming either side, but I believe a little more of the blame is shouldered by Welker’s agents for miscalculating his value and overvaluing the prospect of guaranteed money.

3. The Patriots believed they couldn’t afford to risk losing both Amendola and Welker.

4. The Pats may have indeed given Welker a “take it or leave it” offer, but the Pats would have probably re-negotiated had they not signed Amendola before Welker received an offer from the Broncos. This is really open-ended speculation, but I trust Robert Kraft more than anyone else.

5. Anyone else, other than Mike Reiss. He covered this whole saga flawlessly, and he had the best insight and information on what happened. He also had an awesome appearance on Felger and Mazz, which really put the radio duo in their place after recklessly criticizing both Reiss and Curran.

6. We know that Welker’s agent lied when he said the Pats never offered him. That’s strike one in the “Trust Kraft or Trust Dunn” game, though I am sure Kraft has a better track record in that regard.

7. Both sides were just doing their jobs and doing what was best to help their respective sides (team and player). Kraft is one of the best owners in the business, the Pats are one of the best teams in the business, and Welker’s reps are among the best in the business. However, paranoia and miscalculations doomed them to some mistakes.

8. But circumstances (most namely luck and timing) outdid the minor mistakes that look major under the scope of time and luck.

9. We’ll make it without Welker, even though it doesn’t actually help the team. The Pats would have been better off with Welker, but Amendola is more than a mere consolation prize. The Pats will be fine.

10. Reiss isn’t “in the bag” of anyone.

11. Amendola’s deal is more team-friendly than Welker’s would have been, because Amendola will make less money per year (ESPN Boston showed that he is making $27.7 million and not $31 million overall). He is also younger and will be under a cheap contract for longer. The issue is his durability, but the good thing is that the guaranteed money is gone after two years and there are roster bonuses for health. It all comes down to Amendola’s health, but this five-year deal is terrific if Amendola can be healthy. He will almost certainly be productive as a slot guy in the Pats system. The deal was just genius from the Pats perspective, and the good thing to note is that Amendola’s health concerns could be exaggerated- his injuries were mostly severe and not of the recurring type. That said, losing Welker’s durability in the slot is a huge negative for the Pats.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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Tags: Danny Amendola Denver Broncos Mike Reiss New England Patriots Robert Kraft Wes Welker

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