Burke: Patriots need sense of urgency with Welker gone

Wes Welker is headed to the Mile High city. It's the Patriots time to act.
Wes Welker is headed to the Mile High city. It’s the Patriots time to act.

When Tom Brady re-signed with the Patriots for a bargain basement deal last month, it was widely believed that the team would turn around and spend that extra cash on a player that could elevate the team’s current status as one of the handful of best teams in the NFL to a sure-fire Super Bowl favorite.

As of Wednesday night, the Patriots haven’t followed through on their end of the perceived bargain. That could certainly still change at any hour, but until that happens the Patriots will rightfully be blasted in the media and by fans for letting the most productive receiver in the history of the franchise bolt town. In case you haven’t heard, Wes Welker agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal Wednesday to join rival Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver.

According to several reports, Bill Belichick and the Pats’ brass didn’t work all that hard to keep No. 83 in Foxboro. Albert Breer, of NFL Network, tweeted moments after news of Welker’s departure broke: “My understanding is the Patriots’ final and only recent offer was $10M over two years with incentives. Didn’t make a big effort to keep him.”

Comcast New England’s Tom E. Curran spoke with someone close to Tom Brady moments after the news broke and the source was “enraged” and used words such as “disgrace” and “disservice” regarding the contract details.

For months, both the anti-Welker and pro-Welker camps had great talking points throughout this whole “keep-him,” “let him bolt” saga. Yes, he will be 32-years-old when the 2013 season begins and yes, in the Patriots’ two most recent playoff losses Welker had huge drops. Still, there has been next to nothing to suggest that Welker’s ungodly production as the Pats’ slot receiver would cease over the next few years. Welker had been Brady’s security blanket since he was traded to New England from the Dolphins in 2007 and one could easily make the case that Welker was the best slot receiver in NFL history during his tenure with the Pats. There were five seasons with over 110 catches here. No other player in NFL history has more than two seasons with that type of production.

But this whole contract thing with Welker was never really about production. He could have caught 300 balls last season and things wouldn’t have changed much from the Patriots’ perspective. This thing has always been about “value” with the Patriots front office and whether or not they could get a good deal at a particular position.

The bottom line is that they don’t think slot receiver Wes Welker is worth $12 million over two years. And, really, that should be fine with everyone … on one condition:

Spend that extra cash you’ve got lying around NOW. Not next summer when Brady will be closing in on 37 years of age. Not the summer after when he’ll be yet another year older.

NOW, when the AFC is basically there for the taking. NOW, when Brady is in the first year of this final deal. NOW, when Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez are entering their primes. NOW, when the defense needs multiple, heady veterans to reach that next level.

The Patriots can still figure out a way to be, above and beyond, the Super Bowl favorite when camp begins in July. But make no mistake, for the Patriots front office, it’s “show-me” time. NOW.

Matt Burke is sports editor and a columnist at Metro Boston. Follow him on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS



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