Well, I wish I didn't see this coming.
Back when we were all projecting various landing spots for Wes Welker should he ultimately decide to leave the New England Patriots, there were a number of differing opinions. Some saw him in Tampa Bay. Others saw him with the Chiefs. A few even figured he would end up back in Miami with the Dolphins. And while we didn't all agree on where Welker might eventually end up, we did all agree on one thing:
Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos is the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen.
Cut to today. After a characteristically quiet Day One from the Patriots, it began to seem more and more likely that Welker, who was still on the market and not actively fielding any offers, would indeed return to New England and all would be right with the world. Sure, they weren't quite seeing eye-to-eye on terms, but that was just Welker's agent blowing smoke. There was no way he was going to walk, right?
There's no point in recapping it now; we all know what the terms were and how unbelievably little money it took to sway Welker over to the Dark Side. What's done is done. Our worst nightmare came true, and Wes Welker is now officially a member of the Denver Broncos. The next meaningful pass he catches will be from Peyton Manning.
I just had to write that paragraph. There's no coming back from that.
This move stings on so many levels. Wes Welker was a fantastic receiver, and he fit perfectly into New England's system. Welker was also a very likable guy; not only was he a great player, but he was funny, insightful, and gave smaller, undersized guys everywhere hope that just maybe they could get a piece of the pie as well. He's a tough guy to lose, regardless of where he ended up signing.
But the harsh reality is that he's gone. The Wes Welker era in New England is officially over, and there's nothing we can do about it. We aren't the first fans to feel this hurt, and we won't be the last, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier, does it? It's like getting dumped by the woman you thought you were going to marry or getting to the front of the line just as the show sells out or reaching for the toilet paper only to find out that there isn't any. And I'm sure the seeds of doubt are firmly implanted in all of us right now as we replay the same questions in our minds over throughout the next few days. How in the hell are we going to replace 100 plus catches a season? How is Tom Brady going to react to all this? Why didn't New England match Denver's offer? Does the phrase "In Bill We Trust" carry any weight anymore? How can the Patriots let this happen? How am I going to deal with all of the media backlash that is about to hit the internet?
And why, whywhywhywhyWHY - did he have to go to the Broncos?
Because that's what hurts the most, isn't it? Yes, the thought of losing Welker was difficult to stomach, but I feel like we all would have been able to handle it if he had gone to the Jaguars or the Browns. Hell, I might even have been OK if he had ended up back in Miami. I would have been upset, but at the end of the day I would have been able to take a step back, assess the situation, and come to terms with the fact that an older slot receiver with a lot of hits under his belt wanted more money than he was probably worth, and the Patriots simply were willing to move on without him. I would have been able to come to terms with that.
But not this. Not again.
This is the second time in less than a decade where a Patriots favorite has jumped ship and joined a Peyton Manning-led team. It's one thing to lose your most productive player to free agency, but it's another thing altogether to lose him to a doofy-looking schlub with a massive forehead with whom he is likely to be equally as productive. Welker is going to fit right into the Broncos offense, which is now unbelievably dangerous, and every single reception he makes for the next few years will be a reminder of what could have been. We also now have an entire offseason of "the Patriots really shot themselves in the foot" articles to look forward to, articles that will likely be sandwiched in between "Belichick's pride will finally be his undoing" and "Wes's departure is a slap to the face of both Welker and Brady" pieces that will make us all want to spend the next seven months living in a magical wonderland under the sea. Every time I hear the name Wes Welker from now on, I'm immediately going to think of Adam Vinatieri and just how well that 2006 season ended for the Colts.
This blows. This just blows.
So is there any silver lining here? Is there anything that I can say right now to make that sick feeling go away? Probably not, to be honest; a strong urge to vomit upon hearing this news is simply a part of the free agent grieving process. I feel like crap, and that's how it should be. However, I will say this:
We're going to be OK. The Patriots are going to be OK. It may not seem like it now, and I may not even believe it myself, but deep down I know that this team is going to be absolutely, 100% fine.
They still have a lot of weapons. They have an excellent running game. They have two of the best tight ends in the business. They have a young defense on the rise that really came along as the season progressed. They still have Tommy B. And they still have a buttload of money to spend on what is a very deep talent pool all across the board. The NFL is nothing if not an ever-evolving business, and perhaps it's time for a change in offensive philosophy. Maybe New England is about to go back to the style of play that won them three Super Bowls - a tough ground game that sets up the effective play-action over the middle to large, physical receivers that know how to fight for the ball, all complimented by a smashmouth defense that makes you pay for every yard in blood. I'll take a ring without Welker over an incredibly potent offense with Welker every single day of the week and it isn't even close. And if the front office believes that moving on from Wes givs them the best chance of making that a reality, then Welker can get the hell out and stay out. It may be hard to take right now given that the Patriots have only gotten weaker since Free Agency started, but when all is said and done, I feel very confident in my belief that Bill Belichick will have acquired almost every single player he had his eye on, and each of those players will have been brought in for a very specific reason. The Patriots are going to make some serious moves very soon, and those moves are clearly designed around moving on without Wes Welker. So this might hurt now, but I have a feeling that in a couple of weeks we'll all be feeling a pretty good about the situation.
So let's all take some time to mourn the loss of one of the All-Time Patriots greats, but let's not freak out too much. What hurts the most about this transaction is not that he left, but that he's now one of Manning's minions; that's a very important distinction to make, and as long as we don't lose sight of it, it isn't too hard to see the bright side of Welker's departure.
And honestly, in a weird way, I actually feel better knowing that Welker went to the Broncos for so little money. If New England had offered him a multi-year, huge money contract, that would have meant that they were heavily invested in him and their hopes of success hinged heavily on him staying on the team. But the fact that they were unwilling to match 2 years, $12 million means that something fairly significant is in the works, and all we can really do for now is wait.
And if you're still miserable, and still think that the NFL is too much of a passing league to return to our championship roots, and the team is doomed without Welker, think of it this way: the Broncos were going to win the AFC West with or without him, right? It's not like Denver wasn't a contender but now they suddenly are. The Broncos are all but guaranteed a playoff spot regardless of what they do this offseason, and Welker doesn't suddenly take them from Super Bowl contender to Super Bowl lock. So we were going to have to deal with Manning in the playoffs anyway. And since Manning chokes in the playoffs and Welker drops key passes in the playoffs, the way I see it the Broncos chances of an early exit just doubled. Will Manning turn it over, or will Welker have a huge drop? Only time will tell.
Thanks for everything, Wes. The best of luck to you out in Mile High.
Now if anyone needs me, I'll be in the basement for the next five, six months.