How Replaceable Is Wes Welker?

It's Still Hard For Me To Look At This Picture (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

With all that's been going on with Wes Welker and the Patriots this offseason, it leads us to wonder aloud many different questions. Will he ultimately get the long-term deal he wants? Will he continue to develop into a distraction into the regular season? Will he be a Patriot for much longer?

It's a question that many of us have at least thought about, but have repressed into our deepest most unconscious thoughts. A Patriots team without the mighty Wes Welker seems like a car without part of it's motor. Once any part of the motor is gone, all the car can do is simply drift on the road before it ultimately comes to a screeching halt.

However, we may be getting to that point where Welker's part of the Patriots fine-tuned offensive machine may be exhausted and no longer the right fit for the motor to continue running. Even though Welker decided to give into the team and sign the only offer on the table from the team, his franchise tender, they don't seem to happy with their Pro Bowl receiver.

The Patriots have recently expressed displeasure with Welker over his public comments about the long-term contract negotiations getting "worse". They also weren't too flattered with his threatening of a hold out, I imagine.

For all of those believing that Wes Welker, a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro wide receiver who's ranked near the top of the league in total receptions year in and year out, is trade proof; think again. The Patriots have done this before. They played this same game with Richard Seymour, Deion Branch, Asante Samuel and most recently Randy Moss. No matter how good you are, if you upset the Patriots, they won't hesitate to trade you.

With this precedent being established, the next question you may ask yourself is how replaceable would Welker be if he is traded? Even though it's hard to replace a player who averages over 100 catches and 1,000 yards a season receiving, it's certainly not rocket science.

When Welker came to the Patriots in 2007, Bill Belichick saw a below-average receiver and primary return man whom he could morph into one of the most dynamic receivers the NFL has seen in years. Following three years with both the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins, Welker transformed his career in New England (as shown by the stats below):

You can clearly see by the trend that Welker underwent several modifications in his game to get to where he is today. In hindsight, it seems as if Bill Belichick could look to trade the enigma that Welker has become to a team for future draft picks, and simply recreate him in another player. However, it may not be that easy.

In essence, Welker was a developmental player who was brought into the Patriots system, and ultimately panned out. With players like Welker, it sometimes works. With many others, it does not. And boy, are there a lot of failures.

Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel and Chad Ochocinco are all examples of wide receivers either brought in or drafted by the Patriots over the last decade to try and fill in for an aging Patriots receiving corps. All, by the account of their stats with team, were pretty close to failures.

So with all of the failed attempts of integrating outside receivers into the Patriots system, it seems that familiarity does make Welker a more valuable and therefore more irreplaceable. He's someone that not only fits the system, but he's had tremendous success in it. However, that won't keep the Patriots from at least trying to replace him.

In 2009, it seemed that the Patriots had found Wes Welker 2.0 with the drafting of Kentucky State quarterback turned receiver Julian Edelman. The 5'10 198-pounder displays all of the characteristics that Welker did at his age. He's fast, sure-handed and displays tremendous potential as Welker-type slot receiver. Like Welker, Edelman is currently stuck low on the depth chart and is an elusive kick returner.

Because of the presence of Welker's and other smaller receivers on the team, Edelman really hasn't had the opportunity to shine like the Patriots coaching staff believe he can.

Coincidentally, Edelman will be entering his fourth year in the league, the same career year that Welker began to blossom as a member of the Patriots. Even if Edelman isn't the guy, they drafted another project in Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern, who has all the same tangibles as both he and Welker.

In many aspects, Welker seems irreplaceable. Chemistry levels, relationships and techniques are all hard to replace, but production is something the Patriots believe can be. They've done it before, and if Welker continues to act the way he's acting, they'll do it again.

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