"What's important to consider is Welker's somewhat mild disdain for the Patriots right now, according to a source close to the player."
- Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports
Numbers often work in serendipitous ways: The figure Tom Brady is hauling in from his team friendly extension over three seasons is roughly the same amount Welker has made over his six-year tenure as a Patriot. Brady signed a three-year extension reportedly worth $27 million dollars (though it’s worth noting the parameters of the extension reclassified dollars from his previous deal, assuring Brady more guaranteed money and including a signing bonus). In 2007, Wes Welker signed a five-year deal worth $18.5 million dollars. After that contract expired, Welker played under the franchise tag for $9.5 million dollars last season. In other words, Welker worked double the time to earn the same amount of cash as Brady will be earning.
And just how much of an uneven marriage has this been between Welker and the Patriots? Make no mistake about it: During his stay in New England, Wes Welker has produced numbers that add up to a historic run. I’d argue Welker, along with rule-changes that took away virtually any contact downfield from defensive backs, changed the way football is played. Like forever. And no, I’m not kidding.
The 2010 campaign was Welker’s worst season as a Patriot. It was the only year he didn’t break 110 catches or a 1,000 yards receiving. Yet he still hauled in 86 catches (tied for sixth most that season) for 848 yards. By most viewpoints, a very productive year, but by Welker’s ridiculous standards, it was a throwaway season. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: 2010 was also the year he came back from ripping up his ACL in Houston the previous year.
Consider this: Per Pro Football Reference, no other player has caught a 110 passes in a season more than twice in his career; Wes Welker has accomplished the feat in five of his six seasons as a Patriot. In fact, he holds three of the top seven spots in the all-time single-season most receptions list. And despite being a slot guy who doesn’t typically stretch the field, Welker racks up yards, compiling 8,580 in his nine seasons in the league. For perspective, assuming he signs a three-year deal and racks up over 1,000 yards during that time (totally doable), he’ll land somewhere in the top-20 all-time for most receiving yards.
It’s more than that, though. When Tom Brady needed it most, he looked to Welker. We’re constantly told about the importance of moving the chains, and Welker has ranked somewhere in the top-10 of players who have the most receptions that converted a first down in all but one season as a Patriot (the lone season he didn’t crack the top-10 was in 2010. Again, the comeback season).
The anti-Welker crowd will present the notion that Welker isn’t “clutch,” pointing to his critical third down drop in last year’s AFC Championship Game while the Patriots were leading in the third quarter, and his infamous drop in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI as evidence. This idea, however, is incredibly specious. Welker caught eight balls in each of the Patriots two playoff games last January for a total of 248 yards (both top-five among all players in the postseason).
No matter how you spin it, all that matters is the decision facing both parties today. Prior to last season, Welker reportedly turned down a two-year deal worth $16 million during negotiations. Meanwhile, Dwayne Bowe just signed a five-year, $56 million dollar deal (with $26 million guaranteed). Granted, Bowe is more of an outside threat and is three years younger than Welker, who will be 32-years-old at the start of next season, but the Chiefs wideout’s highest reception total in a single season is 86 (matching Welker’s worst total as a Patriot).
Welker should be frothing at the mouth. And it should come to no surprise that news broke Wednesday morning that Welker will test the free agent market. Consequently, we’re left examining Cole’s story, a respected writer who isn’t the type to throw stuff against the wall.
However this all plays out, it’s important to remember the fact that while Welker was underpaid during his time in New England, it was not the Patriots' fault. They bought Apple stock in the ’80s and enjoyed tremendous returns. That’s good on them and whatever transpires between the Patriots and Welker should have no bearing for previous production, but rather, what Welker can provide going forward.
Look, we’re constantly told that “it’s a business.” Players purportedly understand this. Fans incessantly try wrapping their heads around the reality. And owners, as much as they’ll tell you otherwise, certainly endorse the idea. The axiom is supposed to imply that feelings shouldn’t get in the way; but to me, this always felt counterintuitive. When dealing with someone’s livelihood, how can feelings not become ingratiated? Dollars may not have emotion, but what money represents (value) naturally evokes reaction. “Mild disdain” is as passive aggressive as it gets. Judging from empirical evidence, Welker deserves max dollars, and he should bet on himself. And it’s clear that he is doing so.
Ryan Hadfield is a columnist for Metro Boston. Follow him on Twitter @Hadfield__