Since the Patriots acquired Wes Welker in a trade from the Miami Dolphins, he has been nothing short of outstanding. Of Welker's 5 seasons in New England, he has posted over 1,100 yards receiving in four of them, and recovered from last year's injury-hampered season to lead the NFL in receptions. While Welker's production will be criticized as being a product of the system and Tom Brady rather than his own talent, there is no doubting his value to the New England offense.
In New England Patriots' franchise history, Welker holds the top four spots in receptions per season, and this year set the franchise mark for yardage, with 1,569 yards on 122 catches. While he can't touch Randy Moss's record of 23 touchdowns in a year, he did post the best scoring numbers of his career with 9 TDs this season.
Despite the fact that Welker will be turning 31 entering next season he has shown no evidence of slowing down. Welker also showed the ability to come back from a pretty serious injury and still be the league's dominant slot man.
However, Welker now enters unrestricted free agency after making a mere $2.15 million dollars last season, and early contract negotiations with the Patriots have not gone as smoothly as he would hope. "I plan on being back so I’m not really too worried about that right now," Welker said during Super Bowl week. While there's little doubt of his leaving for greener pastures, will New England commit to their slot man long-term? Or will they franchise him and look for other options in free agency and/or the draft?
The answer to this question will dictate their approach to the offseason.
While Welker has formed an unbelievable relationship with Tom Brady, it might be in question after Mrs. Brady's Super Bowl bashing of the Patriots receiving core. Welker is a 4 time pro bowler and 3 time league leader in receptions, but he'll remember the last pass he dropped for a long time.
Welker has certainly given the Patriots reason to keep him around, but the nightmares of his dropped catch in the Super Bowl will certainly be in many of New England’s fans minds.
The Pats offense is one of the most dominant in the league, however there is a clear need for a complementary player to the inside threats Brady has available. A big, fast deep threat who can create a mismatch outside. A Randy Moss type player, but sane and not done yet.
This year’s free agent wide receiver group originally shaped up to be one of the strongest all time with names like Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, and the list goes on and on. However, at this point, only Colston and perhaps Johnson from that group look like sure candidates to move on from their current teams.
Regardless, the Patriots have not been known for chasing the biggest fish in the free agency pool. Of all the receivers available this year, the name that makes the most sense for New England is probably Brandon Lloyd, the sure-handed receiver who has size and speed and had his career restarted two years ago. Lloyd had his best years playing under Josh McDaniels who is now back as the Patriots offensive coordinator, making this even a better fit.
Lloyd has followed McDaniels around the last couple of years and there is already strong speculation that the free agent might soon be booking his flight to New England.
If the Patriots decide to sign Lloyd it will put them in an interesting place with the cap and whether or not to franchise Welker - which would create a nearly $10 million dollar cap hit.
If there is one need this New England offense has however it certainly is a deep threat on the outside. Whatever deal Welker gets just impacts the dollars available to spend outside the hash marks.
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