For 4 out of the last 5 years, Patriots receiver Wes Welker has been the poster boy of what I like to call a "PPR Machine." From 2007-2009, Welker found his way into our fantasy football hearts, averaging a whopping 115 catches per year. At the tail end of the 2009 season, Welker wound up tearing his MCL and ACL in his left knee and was placed on injured reserve on January 6, 2010. Fortunately, that didn't stop him from leading the league in catches with 123 that season. Coming off knee surgery, Welker had a little bit of a hiccup during his 2010 campaign, catching a mere 86 balls. But considering he wasn't 100 percent, that's still a fairly high number. Welker came back strong last year, even with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez commanding a lot of Tom Brady's attention, putting up his fourth 100+ catch season with 122 and also putting up career highs with 1569 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns.
Now you're probably asking yourself "Why would I give up a guy who has a good chance of giving me PPR points out the ass?" Let me tell ya. If you're a redraft owner, then you probably have nothing to worry about. Unless Welker suffers a season-ending injury, chances are you should get another strong year out of him considering he will be playing for a new contract in 2012. But those of us who play in keeper and dynasty leagues have to be sweating a bit. Especially after Welker and the Patriots failed to come to an agreement on a new contract before last Monday's deadline. This leaves Welker's future as a Patriot unknown as he plays on his $9.5 million franchise tag in 2012.
As a dynasty owner, I always have to keep the future in the back of my mind when it comes to my players. Do my guys have many years left to play? How many years are they signed under on their current team? You have to know when to sell a player high and buy another low. One of these players is Welker. Before the franchise-tag deadline, the Patriots didn't seem in too much of a hurry to sign one of their greatest weapons. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported right before the deadline that even though Welker wants to be paid top dollar, the Patriots consider him more of a slot receiver and not someone who should command the money that Lions WR Calvin Johnson or Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald make.
With that said, Welker owners find themselves in a little bit of a Catch 22. If Welker plays like he has and racks up big numbers again in 2012, I don't see the Patriots getting into a bidding war with another team. It simply isn't the front office's philosophy. And I'd be shocked if Welker was willing to take a discount. Because of that, the Patriots could be willing to let one of their best players walk in free agency in 2013, while another team gives Welker the money that he's looking for. As a current Welker owner, that scares me. We've seen players in the past go from putting up strong fantasy numbers in one city to playing like crap in the next. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who was also a "PPR Machine" back in the day with the Bengals, left for big money in Seattle and floundered miserably. Could Welker suffer the same fate if a team envisions him as a No. 1 option?
On the flipside: What if Welker's age (31) finally catches up to him? He started to slow down a bit near the end of 2011. Was that a sign of things to come? The team bringing in Brandon Lloyd could also be a huge factor in how well Welker plays. There are only so many passes Tom Brady can throw in a game. The positive spin on this would be Welker's value in free agency would shrivel up faster than George Costanza's junk and the Patriots could wind up bringing him back at a discount. This would leave Welker in the offense that made him a fantasy household name. But the negative spin is that fantasy owners will have suffered from Welker's diminishing numbers this year and, possibly, the rest of his career. What good is Welker's value as a Patriot in 2013 when he had to bomb this year to get re-signed? Like I said before, Welker owners are in a Catch 22.
In the end, Wes Welker is going to be one of those players that no matter what you do, you could wind up shooting yourself in the foot no matter how well or badly he plays this year.