Ever since the Patriots traded the Dolphins two draft picks for Wes Welker back in 2007, it's been a match made in heaven. Over the last 6 years, Tom Brady and Welker have formed one of the most connected quarterback/wide receiver duos in recent history. From 2007 to 2012, Welker has amassed an almost unheard of 664 receptions. And in 5 of the last 6 seasons, Welker has also racked up 1165 receiving yards or more. While Welker's touchdown totals aren't up there with the likes of Calvin Johnson, no one can hold that against him when Brady has bigger targets like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez who can out-muscle defenders near the goal line.
Unfortunately, this marriage could come to a screeching halt once free agency starts next week.
Even though Welker has been such a huge part of the offense since coming into New England, we slowly started to see the marriage unravel in the beginning of the 2012 season. Playing on a franchise contract, Welker's 3 catches for 14 yards in Week One against the Titans left many wondering how much he would be used for the rest of the season. The team signed Brandon Lloyd and started rotating Julian Edelman more into the gameplan than in past years. The writing was on the wall that the Patriots were slowly attempting to phase Welker out with the notion that he wasn't going to be back in 2013.
That plan backfired severely. With Edelman, Gronkowski and Hernandez hit with the injury bug, the team was forced to go back to reliable Welker to pick up the slack. And, of course, he showed the team he can still be relied upon, catching 110 passes for 1260 yards and 5 scores. Had all 3 of those guys stayed healthy, I'm afraid Welker's numbers wouldn't have been as impressive.
Now only days away from free agency, Welker's status is completely up in the air. After signing Brady to a team friendly contract that freed up much needed cap space, the Patriots now have extra money and would reportedly like to bring Welker back. Unless they plan on making a splash in free agency or loading up on receivers in the draft, the cupboard is bare. Brandon Lloyd surprisingly turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes the team made in quite some time and is expected to be released. Edelman is too injury prone to be counted on as anything more than a role player. Not to mention he is also set to hit free agency. That leaves unknowns Matt Slater and Kamar Aiken currently penciled in as the starters. YIKES!! A part of me wonders if Brady looked Belichick in the face and said "I want Wes back" before he signed the dotted line.
But will Welker be willing to come back?
Yahoo Sports reported on March 5 that Welker's lack of use in the offense early in the year "stuck in Welker's craw all season." They also report that Welker is "paranoid" regarding his role if he does come back. I can't blame him. With the latest reports stating Welker is set to test the free agent waters, this worries me immensely. An undrafted rookie free agent in 2004, Welker had stints with the Chargers and the Dolphins. Both were forgettable as he was released by San Diego after the first game and was mostly used on special teams in Miami. The market for a 31 year old whose success clearly hinges on one system just isn't there. And if Welker thinks he can land a No. 1 gig like other free agents such as Mike Wallace or even Greg Jennings, he's sadly mistaken. ESPN's Ed Werder reported this same thinking on March 5, stating that Welker will see a "minimal number of teams interested in him" and that his best bet is to stay in New England. Hard to disagree.
In the end, I think Welker and New England will patch things up and be back together again for a couple more years. Welker needs the Patriots. And after last season, the Patriots realize they need Welker just as much.