A New England Patriots team source was asked a simple question: What's going on with
"All of this about Wes just isn't true," the official said. "He isn't being phased out. He isn't being phased out. He's not being punished. All of this speculation is just wrong. It's flat-out wrong."
The official added: "Think about how obvious it would be to phase out Wes Welker."
Actually that would be diabolically clever. But I digress.
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I actually believe this official. I don't think Welker is being phased out (and I'm hearing he has been told this directly by someone on the team but can't say that with certainty). Yet it's hard to argue with anyone who believes he is.
Welker went through a contract fight with the team this summer, he didn't start last week and Julian Edelman is gobbling up his targets. The Boston Globe laid out a highly smart and plausible scenario for why Welker might indeed be seeing fewer snaps.
Wrote the paper: "And the most irrefutable evidence about the Patriots' plans for Welker came in the '12' personnel of one back, two tight ends, and two receivers. As long as Gronkowski and Hernandez are healthy, this is the Patriots' base personnel grouping. The Patriots played 15 snaps of '12' personnel. Edelman played 13 of them as the No. 2 receiver. Welker played two. It used to be the other way around. The four other plays Edelman came off the field for had two-back, two-tight end sets."
What might be happening here -- and the Globe alluded to it -- is that the Patriots aren't phasing Welker out. They are preparing to trade him.
Several league sources said this is more than some remote possibility. This might actually be a probability and the team is seeing if Edelman could fit into Welker's shoes should the team trade him.
This is more the Patriots Way than a phasing out. A sort of stashing of Welker -- and by trading Welker, they would have total control of his destination city. The Patriots traded Randy Moss, and trading Welker before the Oct. 30 deadline would be very Bill Belichick.
So I believe the New England official that the Patriots aren't phasing Welker out.
But that doesn't mean they aren't considering trading him.
3. There are still no substantial talks scheduled (at least for now) between the referees union and the NFL. Speculation is now building that the lockout of the officials could continue into the middle of the season. There is frightening talk in some remote corners of the sport -- talk I do not believe -- the lockout could continue into the postseason.
What remains certain is that the NFL will continue to wait out the refs no matter the amount of gaffes the replacements make. No matter the clamor. No matter what. The NFL will wait until the union breaks, and that is why this lockout could take more time than people think.
4. Scout on the struggles of Chris Johnson: "Everyone has an opinion on what's wrong with him. One theory going around football is that he's injured and is hiding that injury, but I don't believe that. When I watch him on film, I see a guy who got a lot of money, and just doesn't care as much as he once did. It's pretty simple to me." (By the way, Chris -- call me.)
5. All signs continue to point to Roger Goodell basically re-suspending the four Bountygate players. One source close to the situation estimated the percentage of that happening at 90 percent. "And the only reason it's not 100 percent," the source said, "is the NFL's fear of Roger getting deposed in civil court." The NFL is slightly more open to compromise, the theory goes, because a Goodell deposition in any civil action could be highly problematic, since details of it would be leaked. For now, while concerned about such a possibility, the NFL doesn't seem too fearful.
6a. Champ of the week: Steve Sabol. He passed away this week leaving behind a legacy in which he made the sport of professional football imminently more watchable by providing insight into the people -- on and off the field -- who made the NFL. I had probably a dozen conversations with him over the years and he is one of the few people that every time we spoke, I learned something new.
6b. Chump of the week: Greg Schiano. Having the Buccaneers fire out at Eli Manning while Manning attempted a kneel-down was majorly bush league. It was the kind of small fries, high school move unbefitting of an NFL coach. When you speak to coaches in the NFL about it, Tom Coughlin is by far not the only one miffed.
6c. Tweet of the week: "Did boardwalk empire already start?" -- Atlanta's Roddy White. Not sure why this tweet made me laugh, but it did, and, yes, Roddy, it did already start.
7. Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars have caught major hell in recent years for not selling out their stadium. Some of that criticism was earned, some of it was not. Now, it's the San Diego Chargers' turn (again) through the non-sellout grinder.
The Chargers are 2-0. This week, they will play host to the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons. Excellent game. But as of the middle of the week, there were more than 10,000 tickets remaining, meaning a short time after the season opener was in danger of being blacked out, the second game is in similar jeopardy.
These are tough economic times. Some people can't afford tickets to a game. Roger that. Understood. Nonetheless, the NFL is a brutal business that doesn't really care about tough times. The NFL wants results and it isn't getting them in San Diego. Thus, the following trajectory continues toward this final destination (assuming the sale of AEG, which has pushed hard for a return to L.A., doesn't wreck the entire process):
The Los Angeles Chargers.
That continues to be the most likely scenario.
8. Michael Strahan -- former Giants player, former man in the NFL trenches, former laid-back dude -- is now co-host of a popular morning television show and interviewing presidential candidates. Amazing, and sign No. 1 million of the power of the NFL.
9. Jim Brown reuniting with the Cleveland franchise means all is right with the world.
10. I'm hearing Tim Tebow will have increased touches in the Jets offense this week against Miami.