At approximately 4:00 p.m. this past Monday, the long-term security of one the New England Patriots' most dangerous weapons was put into serious jeopardy. In moments following this moment in time, we heard that wide receiver Wes Welker had not agreed to a contract extension with the Patriots--meaning that he will play under a one-year franchise tender in 2012.
Unless the Patriots decide to franchise him once again for the 2013 or somehow work out a contract agreement with him after the season, it is likely that 2012 will be Wes Welker's last season with the New England Patriots.
One of the main reasons why the Patriots and Welker aren't seeing eye-to-eye, is that they seem to differ on the guaranteed money factor. Welker believes that he should be payed like one of the top wide receivers in the game of football. However, the Patriots believe he should be payed like one of the top slot wide receivers in the game. It's really hard to argue who is right in the instance.
If the Pats lose Welker, they'll be losing arguably their most dependable and reliable receiver of the last five seasons. Since coming to New England in 2007, Welker has averaged over 100 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving--earning four pro-bowls and an All-Pro selection in 2009 and 2011. He's the kind of talent that doesn't come around too often.
Assuming that Welker does walk away (I'm pegging chances at 80% that he's a goner), the Patriots might be in good position to replace him with one of their own; third-year tight end Aaron Hernandez.
You may say, "Well that's not right, Hernandez is a tight end! He couldn't possibly replace Welker!" But when examining Hernandez's development, the two are actually a lot similar than any outsider could predict.
Coming in with a 6-2, 250 pound frame--Hernandez measures more like a wide receiver than a tight end. Although he on paper is a lot bigger than the 5-9, 190 pound Welker, Hernandez sports a similar playing style than that of Welker's. Check out Aaron Hernandez in Week 17 against the Bills, and Wes Welker in Week 16 against the Dolphins:
One of things that Bill O'Brien had Hernandez doing a lot of last year were short crossing routes and comebacks, as shown in the Buffalo video. Welker's primary routes against Miami were also crossing routes and short comeback routes. O'Brien also utilized them both on short screens, a few deep crossing routes, and designed wide receiver reverses.
You just don't see tight ends being used on a WR-Reverse. But you do when you've got the skill set that Aaron Hernandez has.
At times this past season, Welker was given the bulk of the deep routes, but was only partially successful when thrown too. But with the addition of Brandon Lloyd, a perennial deep-threat, that workload will likely be taken off Welker--which could open the door to him returning routes he saw back in 2007 when Randy Moss was here. Not to mention, Josh McDaniels is back calling the shots.
One giant similarity that I see in both of their games is after-the-catch moves each use. After they catch a pass, both's go-to move when a defender is around is their cutback or spin move. While it's fairly common for someone like Welker to have moves like that, it's rare to find a tight end who is able to do it just as well.
The one big thing that stands out for me with Hernandez is his quickness after the catch, and the sort of finesse he displays while doing it. Instead of barreling over people with power, like counterpart Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez seems to resort to receiver-like moves to get past lurking defenders. Again, not something you see everyday.
For the exception of where both are lining up on the line of scrimmage, I believe it's almost like I'm watching the same player on film here.
While you can physically can tell the two apart when out on the street, it's hard to tell them apart when they are on the football field. Both seem thrive on running shorter routes, and picking up yards after the catch with crafty superior football moves.
If Hernandez is able to make the (in my opinion) inevitable move to wide receiver, the Patriots have put themselves in prime position to fill Herndo's spot in a two-tight end set. In addition to having the best tight end in the NFL in Gronkowski, they also have the best tight end depth in the NFL with veteran Daniel Fells and young Jake Ballard waiting in the wings.
If Welker does leave New England for more money next season, I fully believe that Aaron Hernandez should be given a chance to replace him. It'll be like he never left.