Dec 16, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster (22) carries the ball against Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (52) during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Let me ask you a question — What difference is $11.4 million when you are already spending $9.5 million?
Some might say $1.9 million. If I’m writing checks in New England, however, my answer is “not much, really.”
Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and the rest of the New England Patriot front office have three choices when it comes to Wes Welker: 1) Sign him to a long-term deal and make him a Patriot for life, 2) Franchise him for another year and take an $11.4 million hit to your cap, or 3) Cut him loose.
In a perfect world, most New England fans would choose the first option. Well, this isn’t a perfect world. This is Bill Belichick’s world.
Belichick is and has been the strongest voice in Robert Kraft’s ear since Kraft took over the team. More often than not, what Bill wants, Bill gets. What we know Bill doesn’t want is a stockpile of aging and overpaid veterans taking up space in his locker room. Richard Seymour learned that the hard way.
Given what we know about how Belichick’s mind works, you know the last thing he’s thinking is signing Welker to a long-term deal. The fact that Welker is not exactly declining, however, may buy the receiver another year in Foxboro with that $11.4 million tag.
The fact is, there are no receivers available in free agency who play Welker’s style of play and could match his production for the same price. This includes Danny Amendola.
One of the injustices we as fans tend to be guilty of is comparing players and labeling them as similar based on their physical traits. This is the case with Amendola and Welker. The internet has blown up over the past few days with Amendola-to-New England rumors with the thought that he’d be the perfect replacement for Welker. The problem with that idea is other than their skin color, alma mater and position; they are two completely different football players.
Welker is a guy who makes his living on underneath routes and screens, following up his receptions with a league-leading 619 yards after the catch (YAC). Amendola, two inches taller than Welker and the same weight, is more of a possession receiver who does have the speed to stretch the field deep. An arm injury shortened his 2012 season, but even if you doubled his stats, he would have finished with less yards and YAC with 8 more receptions.
Size, style and statistics say Amendola is much more comparable to Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, not Wes Welker.
Wes Welker’s doppelganger may be currently playing in Kansas City. Like Welker, Dexter McCluster was a superstar in college (Ole Miss) as a running back, receiver and kick returner. Former Kansas City G.M. Scott Pioli, the same guy who brought Welker to New England, drafted McCluster as a slot receiver, presumably to play the same role that Welker plays in New England. McCluster has shown flashes of brilliance, but the problems in Kansas City have prevented him from establishing any real rhythm or presence.
McCluster only logged 52 catches off 78 targets, however, that percentage of catches to targets (66.6%) is much more comparable to Welker (67.8%) than Amendola’s 62.3%. The same comparison can be made for YAC. Welker gained 45.7% of his total yard after the catch. McCluster came in at 44.9% while Amendola logged just 37%.
Our eyes may lie to us, but the numbers do not. Dexter McCluster is the more viable replacement for Wes Welker than Danny Amendola. He is comparable to Welker in size and has similar if not better quickness to work underneath and over the middle of the field. He’s also three years younger than Amendola.
The problem now is patience. McCluster will be a free agent in 2014. I do not expect Andy Reid to start giving him 10 targets a game, so he’ll likely put up similar stats in 2013 as 2012. Not only will he be a free agent, he’ll be a cheap one, something Amendola will not be this season.
It will cost an extra $1.9 million in the short term, but signing Welker for one more year with the plan of acquiring McCluster in 2014 makes much more sense from both a financial and strategic standpoint than bringing in Amendola right now.
Here’s hoping Kraft and Belichick figure this out before making a decision they could regret.