With Wes Welker being mysteriously absent during the last two team practices and therefore not expected to play tonight's preseason contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, speculation has been running rampant. What if the Patriots are doing their due diligence and dangling our beloved Wes Welker like a pass-catching carrot in front of wideout-needy teams?
While it's highly unlikely that any team would give up anything of significant value for a $9.5 million contract with no real way to extend it beyond just the one year, it's certainly not impossible. Teams that have witnessed glaring holes during their respective training camps like moths on a fine cashmere sweater won't be gun shy if they feel they're just one key away from unlocking the playoff door. It'd more difficult to understand than Jim Irsay's incoherent tweets to see Wes Welker's name suddenly vanish from the 53-man roster, but there are two perspectives to look at here.
First, the Patriots may have every intention to retain Welker this year and beyond. As a player who has developed an unrivaled rapport with Brady since the Patriots acquired him in 2007, holding Welker out of practice could just be precautionary to prevent preseason nicks and dings from befalling their veteran starters. While unsuccessful in hammering out a contract extension during the offseason, the Patriots could hope that Welker might alter his stance and meet the Patriots halfway on a deal with the lack of security of a long-term contract looming. The Patriots view Welker as an irreplaceable component in their system, one where the uncertainty of a high-round draft pick wouldn't even suffice. And what's not to like? Welker is a professional who has done an admirable job of skirting the diva syndrome that has stricken many of his peers. While posting eye-popping and league-leading numbers each season with nary a complaint (including three consecutive of at least 110 receptions), Welker's contributions to the team might even be too overlooked.
Second, the Patriots have no intention of paying Welker and want to actively shop him. The Patriots feel they could duplicate many of Welker's numbers by inserting Julian Edelman—or even Jeremy Ebert—in his place, both who come far more cap-friendly with less mileage on their frames. The Patriots, in an effort to strike while the iron is hot, want to recoup some value for Welker while they still can. While a $9.5 million tag for a slot receiver is steep, the tag for next season would exceed $11 million, a prohibitively expensive deal that the Patriots would be unwilling to make. If a team looking to add a few weapons to a new arsenal like the Indianapolis Colts riskily offers something like a package of draft picks or even a first-rounder—with the strong likelihood of it being a top ten pick—the Patriots may just bite. Welker may have severely jeopardized his standing with the team in not accepting a two-year, $16 million deal late last season, and the team could be preparing for a future without him.