The Patriots lost one of their foot soldiers today, just another move in an extremely interesting and pivotal moment in franchise history. Quarterback Tom Brady took a pay cut with the hopes that the Patriots could improve their chances to take home another championship and it is widely thought those chances included the best slot wide receiver in the game, Wes Welker.
Looks like the Patriots front office thought differently.
Since joining the Patriots in 2007, Welker has racked up 672 receptions, 80 more than the #2 guy, Brandon Marshall. His 7,459 receiving yards are fourth most over that time frame. He’s suffered a torn ACL and has put the team on his back in more than one occasion.
And now he’s with Peyton Manning in Denver.
Welker joins a successful offense, with two young studs in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker stretching the field, and has a lot to offer. If any quarterback other than Brady can take advantage of Welker’s skill set, it would be Peyton Manning. Denver was the worst case scenario for the Patriots and their nightmares are coming true.
Or are they?
In 2006, the Patriots were close to the top of the world. They had a chance to continue their dynasty, although an early playoff exit in Denver left a bad taste in their mouth. The Patriots had placed their 2005 franchise tag on a one of the team’s most legendary players, a person who would live in lore for Boston sports history, and they were contemplating doing it again for 2006.
The Patriots decided against the tag and risked letting the player walk. The Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning called up to fight to sign the free agent, but it wasn’t much of a fight at all.
"When the Colts called, I told my agent, ‘Let’s not screw around.’ I told him ‘If Indy is interested, let’s get this done. The Patriots clearly expressed to me that it was a business by the decisions they made. So I had to examine my options. I saw it coming…[In 2005, prior to the franchise tag] the negotiations for a new contract were not going the way we thought they would."
Kraft was clearly upset that this player walked, just as he’ll be sad to see Welker leave. "To this moment, I’m very sad he is not part of this team," Kraft said. "He’ll always be a permanent part of the great legacy of the New England Patriots."
And Adam Vinatieri walked and added to his legacy, beating the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and taking home another Super Bowl ring.
In 2007, the Patriots juggernaut was undefeated and were hoping to become the first team in league history to finish the season 19-0. The Patriots had a "situation" with a certain player on the roster. He was playing under the franchise tag and was considered one of, if not the best, player at his position in the league, coming off of a season high 10 interceptions and 24 passes defended.
Prior to the season, Patriots coach Bill Belichick stated this player is "an outstanding player who has been a consistent contributor for us for several years. We hope [he] remains a Patriot for many seasons to come."
This player went out and was inked with a "Get Paid" tattoo. He went to the media and said, "It’s disappointing. You want to believe they know what you’ve done. So you hope for the best, but you end up feeling underappreciated. You feel disrespected…they show you such a low regard. I took it personally, at first. You’d think I would have been around this team long enough to realize it’s all about business."
The 2007 season commenced and this player lived up to his franchise tag; he played out his contract and had the chance to be the hero in the 2007 Super Bowl.
But then he let the ball slip by. Right through his fingers. Giants win the Super Bowl after a couple of ridiculous plays.
And there’s Wes Welker. He played out his heart for the better part of half a decade up in New England. He set records and was the heart of the Patriots offense. The Patriots knew that and Patriots fans knew that. The offense functioned better when Welker was fed the ball. He made yards out of nothing and was as durable as could be.
He was relentless in the gym and was well liked in the locker room. He was Brady’s friend and was an invaluable asset. But then the Patriots disrespected him in the 2011 off season and they treated a person like business. Like they always have and like they always will.
Welker was a free agent and was looking for a long term deal. The Patriots offered two years and $16 million. Welker balked and the Patriots issued the franchise tag. There’s something about that tag.
In 2011, Welker had the chance to be a franchise hero and make an impossible play. It was the Super Bowl. Again. Against the Giants. Again. The offense wasn’t playing at its regular level (again), but they offense still had a chance to win the game. The pass wasn’t perfect. The route wasn’t regular. The Giants were caught off guard and if Welker had that extra inch of height, had taken one extra step, had Brady thrown the ball one inch closer, a little bit slower, the Patriots would have another ring.
But then the ball trickled through. Right through his fingers. Giants win the Super Bowl after a couple of ridiculous plays.
Etched in stone.
Welker played out the 2012 season under the franchise tag and had another incredible season and the general hope and feel was that the Patriots would get him signed for the long term. All the dominoes were falling into place. Brady took a pay cut and opened up some cap space. Rumors were that receiver Brandon Lloyd was going to be let go, opening up even more space. Welker was penciled in on rosters everywhere.
But no deal came to be. But Peyton Manning came knocking and the Patriots lost another all-franchise player. The Broncos offered two years and $12 million, 25% less than what the Patriots had offered one season before. And he accepted. He had been disrespected by the franchise, he was a casualty in this business.
A good little foot soldier, off to fight in a different trench.
Losing Adam Vinatieri had a greater impact on the franchise’s mystique than on the field, but the Patriots are still recovering from the loss of Asante Samuel at defensive back. Maybe the loss of Welker won’t have the same impact.
Welker’s story follows the same plot and same ending that we’ve seen many times before. He earned a contract, but the Patriots offered a market value deal- less than what he was expecting. He took less to play somewhere out of pride; he was disrespected and wanted a reason to leave.
The Patriots now have a chance to revamp their offense with plenty of free cap space- even more now that Welker’s not calculated into the cap. They can add size to the outside, something they’ve needed since they lost Randy Moss. They are covered on the inside on the field with targets in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They can bring back Julian Edelman, who the team tried to play over Welker early in the 2012 season. They can bring in free agents of their own and they can find their future stars in the draft. The team can get over this loss.
Let’s just hope the Patriots didn’t let the receiver position and the success of the upcoming season trickle right through their fingers.