NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported today that New England Patriots free agent wide receiver Wes Welker “has no plans to re-sign with the team before first testing the free-agent market next week.”
This comes on the heels of an article posted by Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports yesterday which reported on what Cole referred to as “Welker’s somewhat mild disdain for the Patriots right now” , resulting from “how he was treated in last year’s opener, when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had him targeted for a season-low five pass attempts.”
Read on to find out what this means for New England.
Schefter’s report is unsurprising considering Welker’s apparent anxiety to earn a lucrative contract extension, and Welker testing the market may ultimately benefit New England more than it harms them. Of course, by allowing Welker to reach free agency, the Patriots risk losing him to another team looking for an upgrade at wide receiver. Should Welker choose to sign elsewhere, his absence would certainly create a void in New England; it’s difficult to replace his 134 catches, 1,602 yards, and seven touchdowns (including the playoffs.)
However, at this point Welker’s anticipation of attractive offers from other teams could force New England to overcommit themselves financially in order to reach an agreement with him. If, as ESPN’s Ed Werder reported yesterday morning, “there’s not gonna be a huge demand on the market…he’ll get a minimal number of teams interested in him”, the Patriots should find him much more receptive to returning on a reasonable contract.
So what is Welker worth? According to Pro Football Focus, Welker’s Performance-Based Value was $6.3 million in 2012, and, as he turns thirty-two on May 1st, it’s possible that his value could depreciate further in the future. However, as of now, it’s unlikely that Welker would be willing to settle for a two-year, $12.6 million contract or a three-year, $18.9 million deal. Once he hits the open market and gets a glimpse of his value to other teams, however, a two-year deal in the aforementioned range could be possible.
Such a deal would represent the ideal type of free agent investment at the position for New England, as other top targets such as Mike Wallace could reasonably receive upwards of $10 million per season, especially following Dwayne Bowe’s five-year, $56 million agreement with the Chiefs this week. While adding a dangerous outside receiver a la Wallace or Greg Jennings could dramatically improve New England’s passing attack, it isn’t logical to do so considering the amount of money New England has already committed to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Many Patriots fans have discussed replacing Welker with a prospect such as West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, but such a move represents a significant risk on New England’s part. Because Welker is almost certain to sign before April’s NFL Draft, the Patriots would likely have to watch him (and St. Louis Rams free agent Danny Amendola) sign elsewhere before attempting to draft a prospect who is considered unlikely to last until New England’s first-round pick.
Without Welker, Amendola, or Austin, the Patriots may be limited schematically, restricted to an offense without true threats at wide receiver. Therefore, even if New England were interested in drafting Austin (as they arguably should be), they should attempt to lock up Welker for at least two years regardless of their draft-day plans, as the problem of how to integrate both Welker and Austin into the offense simultaneously is more appealing than the possibility of attempting to manufacture offense without any legitimate receiving options. The best strategy for New England this offseason begins with re-signing Wes Welker, and allowing him to field additional offers may be the most cost-effective way of doing so.