There's really no point in delaying the inevitable, is there?
The sooner we all just accept the fact that one of the primary storylines of the New England Patriots' 2013 offseason is Wes Welker and whether or not he will be in New England come September, the better off we'll all be. As much as I'd like to think that people listen to anything I say and that I have any influence on the national sports media, I'm really starting to realize that most respectable journalists don't even know who I am. So I'm not even going to bother fighting this one. I may as well jump in there with both feet. Let's all get ready for a whole lotta Wes.
Now unless I'm missing something, one of three things is going to happen over the next few weeks/months regarding Wes Welker. The Patriots are either going to part ways with him, they are going to sign him to a multi-year deal, or they are going to franchise him again. I guess there could be other scenarios out there, like maybe they re-sign him and then trade him to another team, but I find that highly unlikely. I think the three scenarios I just mentioned are the ones most likely to occur this offseason.
What is also going to accompany each of these scenarios, if history is any indicator, is a media-driven narrative which somehow finds a way to paint the Patriots as villains regardless of the outcome. Even though the team has proven time and time again that they are more than fair in regards to handling their personnel, they have somehow developed a reputation for stinginess and an unflinching tightwaddery that would make Scrooge McDuck himself want to tell Bob Kraft to lighten up. That they have paid plenty of players handsomely, or that those they have chosen to let go have very rarely gone on to do anything elsewhere, doesn't hold much weight in the eyes of those who insist they treat their players like crap and only care about the bottom line. And since the team wasn't able to come to an agreement with Welker last season and will likely wait until the last possible minute to make whatever move they plan on making this year, we should all get ready for a big, steaming pile of propaganda.
What I'm going to try to do, over the next few days, is examine each of the primary Wes Welker scenarios and predict how the media would potentially spin that scenario should it become a reality. And we may as well start with the one that worries us most: what if Wes Welker has
dropped caught his last pass as a Patriot?
Scenario 1: The Patriots part ways with Wes Welker
The Media Spin: The cheap, stingy Patriots, once again clamping their wallets shut, have decided to let yet another key member of their team go as they remain relentlessly and wrongly focused on money and not talent. Wes Welker has more than earned a big payday, but the soulless Bill Belichick is so stubborn and entrenched in "The Patriot Way" that he won't make an exception for anybody, no matter how deserving they might be. With Tom Brady's window closing, and possibly already closed, Belichick's hubris has deprived his quarterback of the league's best security blanket and once again left a gaping hole in the offense. Who can possibly fill the void left by Welker? Julian Edelman? Another CFL player? When we all look back on the end of the Brady Era and why he never got that fourth ring, letting Wes Welker walk will be a large black mark on Belichick's legacy.
What they will be ignoring: The Patriots always have, and hopefully always will, pay their players who they think are most valuable to the overall success of the team. After much speculation as to why the Pats weren't giving Tom Brady his due, he ended up receiving the most lucrative contract in the NFL. Vince Wilfork, whom the team "selfishly" franchised to give them more time to work out the details of his contract, became the league's highest paid interior lineman. The irreplacable Logan Mankins also received a contract that the team though reflected his value. And most recently, the Patriots gave lengthy, worthwhile contracts to their two tight ends well ahead of schedule. The fact of the matter is that the Patriots pay players based on their inherent value to the franchise based on what they can bring to to the team, and their success since 2001 leads me to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their acquisitions and cuts. They have let plenty of players walk, and they have kept plenty of players as well, and they are still one of the most successful teams in the league. Now I'm sure there are those whose only definition of "success" is winning a Super Bowl ring, and if that's the case I can't really argue. However, I would also ask those people to also start pointing fingers at the 27 other franchises who also haven't won a ring since 2004 and how they choose to allocate their funds.
The facts: Wes Welker is the Patriots' most productive receiver and it isn't even close. He has led the team in catches every year since the team signed him and he has become Tom Brady's most trusted target. He is also 31 years old and has been taking an absolute pounding for the past six years. He is a reliable receiver, but not an incredibly clutch one, and he has had a few key drops throughout his career (which, if I had my way, would NOT be what he's remembered for by the Boston media - but I'm only one man) and he may no longer be as valuable as he once was. There is also the fairly solid theory that Welker is perfectly designed for a Tom Brady led offense and wouldn't be anywhere near as productive elsewhere. Welker has to know that his best chance to make an impact on this league is to stick with Tommy B; their chemistry is undeniable and there are very few quarterbacks that would be able to fully take advantage of Welker's skillset. The real issue is whether or not Welker cares more about money at this point in his career, or if he cares about putting himself in the best position to win and make his place in the history books. If his focus is on the former, then he'll likely be gone. If it's on the latter, he'll stay.
Next time I'll look at how the Patriots will still be viewed as evil even if they lock Welker up with a two or three year deal.