|Welker has been wildly productive, but that doesn't guarantee that he'll return to Foxboro. (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)|
We went through this last offseason with Wes Welker. Would the Patriots franchise him? Sign him to a long-term deal? Let him walk? One year, 118 receptions and 1,354 yards later, here we are again and the issue is unchanged: paying a productive player on the wrong side of 30. Welker, who was eventually tagged last spring, made $9.5 million in 2012. That number would be approximately $10.4 million in 2013. So what should the Pats do?
The speculation began in December, when ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss wrote that "I see the Patriots assigning another franchise tag on Welker in the offseason because he's too valuable to let walk."
Nearly two months later, Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin reiterated the sentiments, calling the decision to let Welker walk "absolutely crazy" -- with a caveat.
"But I also think Wes would be crazy leaving the Patriots,” said Irvin, via the Boston Herald. “What you need is a great coach that says, ‘I recognize your skill set. Let me make sure I ask you to do what you do best.' That's what Wes does. That's what New England does with Wes. That's why it's a perfect fit.
“Tom Brady loves throwing inside. You've got [Rob Gronkowski], who is going to give you vertical size and also get you up the field vertical. But you need that small guy that works in small spaces. Wes is that guy. As long as you have Tom Brady, you better have Wes Welker, or you will see Tom Brady not [playing] like Tom Brady.”
It's a fair point. We always go back to the 2006 season, when Reche Caldwell was the Pats' leading pass catcher, and the No. 2 wide receiver position was manned by some combination of Jabar Gaffney, Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson and Troy Brown. That offseason, the Patriots acknowledged that Brady couldn't fix everything and they went out and got Welker and Randy Moss. And, just like that, Brady was back to looking like Brady.
Moss was asked recently about playing alongside Welker.
“It was a great combination because of what we were able to do to benefit from one another,” he said via the Herald. “He's the wide receiver that you need for your dirty work. I can honestly say, and I'm not telling you something you don't already know, he does the dirty work up there. He takes the hits across the middle. He takes the short routes and takes them 20, 30, 40 yards for the first down or maybe the touchdown. You can really appreciate the guy's work.”
But Moss also understands how things work.
“This league is a business,” he continued. “You can't really hang your hat on one particular player. Joe Montana got traded. I got traded. Peyton Manning. Golly. You don't know what can happen. I'll tell you what, the helium would leave the balloon if Tom Brady was traded. You see what I'm saying? It's a business. People really need to understand the business side of professional sports.”
And that's the thing: everybody's expendable. Couple that with the Pats' sometimes cold-blooded approach to personnel matters, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Welker playing for another team in '13.