Sorry, Revis, but I'm leaving the island and taking the football with me, too. - Al Bello
Saying goodbye is hard to do.
It's pretty common knowledge around these parts that I'm a fan of Wes Welker. That is true, and I've never tried to hide it. I'm a long time football fan, and I favor the plucky overachiever sort. I like guys that give it their all and leave everything on the field. I like guys that play with heart. In fact, that's one of the things that got me rooting for the Pats to begin with. They've have a number of guys over the years that are just flat out better than their measurables would indicate because they just want it more than anyone else on the field.
I've been asked to give my thoughts on the Welker and Amendola situation, and I will in two parts. If this first part sounds a bit like a eulogy, so be it. It is part of the grieving process, and I know from reading the comments, there are other fans at the same stage. It's all part of moving on. In the NFL, if you don't keep moving, you'll get run over. Ask Revis.
A lot of fans say they'd never heard of Welker before he arrived in Foxboro. I had. Oh, sure in 2004, he was just the Dolphins return guy who averaged 24.0 yards per kick return and 18.3 yards per punt return against us. Except he also had to fill in for the Dolphins kicker who got injured pregame. He kicked a field goal and an extra point, returned the punts, kickoffs, and got a special teams tackle all in the same game. He got the AFC Special teams player of the week for that, and that's when I first found out what # 83's name was. In 2005, we caged him on the punt returns but he averaged an extra yard on the kick returns. In addition, he averaged over 20 yards per catch against us including a long of 47 yards. In 2006, he still got 25 yards per kick return against us, but also had a little 9 catch game where he was all over the field. He was just sort of a big pain in the butt. Brady said, "Wes has killed us the last few years." Hoodie thought so, too and decided to trade a 2nd and a 7th rounder for him. "WTF" was heard all across Patriot land, but that wouldn't last long. Not long at all.
During the 2007 preseason, Brady called Welker a Labrador retriever, because you just toss the ball out there and he brings it back with his tail wagging. Just for fun take a look and see how many retrievers are named Welker. It's sort of funny how many people picked up on that. Wes started the season listed 4th on the depth chart behind Moss, Stallworth and Gaffney. It was easy to miss his contributions with the resurgence of Randy "the freak" Moss. Moss started the season with four 100+ yard games and 7 TD's (almost 2 per game) to go with it. Why pay attention to the little guy moving the chains 6 or 8 times a game, when there's the long, glorious bomb to Randy Moss that was a thing of beauty.
Whenever Moss got slowed down, though, The Little Engine That Could cranked things up. Dallas: 11 catches 124 yards, Miami: 9 catches 138 yards (think he wanted to stick it to Miami?), Philly all but shut Moss down, but Welker: 13 catches 149 yards for the Slot Machine as he was now called. Reid, however, called him death by a thousand cuts. When all was said and done, Welker had set a new franchise catch record and tied for first place in the NFL for catches. In the Super Bowl, he was about the only target Brady had all game and tied the Super Bowl record for catches: 11 catches 103 yards including a nice little 19 yard scamper. Tom was MVP of the season, but Welker made a strong argument for Super Bowl MVP had it not been for a sticky helmet.
Brady only had 11 passes before he was done in 2008, but Welker's catch total only dropped by one, down to 111. In Seattle, he was almost the entire offense: 12 catches 134 yards. Yet another time he carried the team on his undersized shoulders. A couple of his catches that year were in the 70 MPH gusts against Buffalo.
In 2009, Brady came back and Wes set a new high for catches with 123 despite missing a couple early games with a knee injury. Anybody who thinks that Houston game was the first sign of a knee problem, is ignoring the fact that he gutted through the knee issue the whole season picking up six 100+ yard games along the way. After Moss ran a couple of those across the middle routes in his absence, he acknowledged that Welker had the hardest job on the whole offense. During the Carolina game, the Patriots were losing and seemed to be losing heart as well, Welker took an absolutely crushing hit to the helmet (not against the rules at the time), and people wondered if he'd ever play again. He stood up, yelled, and signalled first down and the entire stadium was energized. The fans felt it the team felt it and they proceeded to win the game. Had Welker been carted off, who knows? How much energy did they have during that Baltimore playoff game without Welker? Yeah, something like that.
In 2010, the year that Welker could have earned a shiny new rework of his deal, everyone was wondering who would fill the slot position. Would Welker be healthy in so short a time, could Edelman fill his shoes? Yet there was Welker, albeit having his worst season as a Patriot to date. He did do a pretty decent job of filling in when Ghost got injured, though, converting his one and only PAT attempt and kicking the following kickoff. Wes' best game was in the snow against Chicago: 8 catches 115 yards. Welker said he didn't deserve a new deal based on the 16 game, 86 catch season. Articles abounded about how Welker was washed up, how he'd never be able to cut again.
How did he answer the doubters in 2011? 122 catches 1569 yards including the 99 yard number in Miami where 94 yards of it were on foot and a cloud of dust. Eight games with 100+ yards and one with 217 yards. Everyone focuses on the catch he and Brady didn't complete in the Super Bowl despite a game plan predicated on disrupting the timing between Brady and Welker. Who else on the Patriots did more to win the game? No one on the entire 46 man game day roster, that's who.
People blamed "the drop" for what happened next with Welker, but I've got a different viewpoint that I'll address in my next article. Suffice to say that negotiations didn't go well, and Welker was franchised. He signed the tender and went to work. No muss, no fuss. Despite a concerted effort to remove him from the offense, he ended the season with 118 catches 1354 yards, the second highest YPA of his career behind only 2011. Why did they use him so much? They had to, and it showed. Herndo got dinged up. Edelman was watching from the sidelines twice. Stallworth was one play and IR'd. Gronk suffered yet another inconvenient injury. So despite turning up on the injured list multiple times, Welker once again returned punts, and caught passes over the middle and down the sidelines, and did whatever they asked him to do. Because we needed him. He carried us for almost the whole season this time.
I understand how this all went down, and mentally I'm fine with it. I understand the business and I believe I understand the thought processes behind it. Wes, like Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown, and many others is one of the easy guys to root for. He's the plucky overachiever that stands back up whenever someone knocks him down. The guy that lights a fire under the team when they are down by just showing them that guts and effort can overcome all else. He's Steve Rogers minus the super soldier formula. The every man who becomes great through sheer force of will.
Anyway, I'm sorry that it had to end this way, and I'll certainly miss Wes Welker, but I know the team must go on. It's been great while it lasted, and I'll certainly continue to root for the little guy (whenever he doesn't play the Pats), but he's no longer a Patriot and that's that. So long and good luck Wes. Thanks for showing us that when you strive, all things are possible.
Slot Machine Player