Have Some Common Sense, Pats Fans: Don't Boo Wes Welker
Wes Welker will make his return to Gillette Stadium tomorrow night when his 9-1 Denver Broncos come to town to take on the Patriots.
Welker, of course, played his previous six seasons with the Patriots, where he emerged as one of the best slot receivers the game has ever seen. In six seasons, Welker racked up a franchise record 672 receptions, 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns. Statistically, he's the greatest receiver to ever don Patriots colors.
However, with Welker it was always less about the eye-popping numbers, but more about how he got them. At 5'9", 185 lbs, Welker was the perfect personification of an NFL underdog. Smaller than most fans and undrafted in 2004 despite a productive career at Texas Tech, Welker made the Chargers only to be cut one week into the season. He would spend the next two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, where he was better known for his ability as a return man. It wasn't until 2007, when the Patriots signed Welker as a restricted free agent, that the diminutive receiver would begin his assault on the team's record books. Believe it or not, many at the time questioned Bill Belichick's decision to give up a second round pick for a largely unproven receiver.
Welker was also a dream for fans of sportswriting cliches, as whatever he lacked in size he made up for with toughness/grit/hustle. Seemingly every game for six years the following sequence would occur: Brady looks for Welker immediately on a key third down, with Welker making a tough catch in traffic and holding onto the ball despite taking a crushing hit from a linebacker. Before the crowd can even gasp at the hit, Welker miraculously bounces to his feet, no worse for wear and tear. 8 yards on 3rd and 7. Good for a Patriots first down.
Except now, those first down's will benefit Peyton Manning instead of Brady. Who deserves the blame for that depends largely on who you ask. There are those who feel that the Patriots lowballed Welker in contract negotiations, suspecting that Belichick had personal issues with Welker. After all, Belichick did bench Welker for the first series of 2010's wild card loss to the Jets (words that still pain me to type) after the receiver made some hilarious foot-related jabs at Rex Ryan in a press conference. The Patriots would later inexplicably de-emphasize Welker's role in the offense early in the 2012 season, leading to Welker's now infamous "stick it in Bill's face" comment following a breakout performance against these Broncos.
However, as Tom E. Curran noted this week on Quick Slants, the Patriots previous offer to Welker was larger than the 2 year, $12 million deal that ultimately brought Welker to Denver. By the time Welker came back to the Patriots, giving them a final opportunity to match the offer, the Patriots had already moved on by signing Danny Amendola.
Looking back on it, it looks like there's plenty of blame to go around. Welker's agents clearly overestimated Welker's market value in negotiations with the Patriots. The fact that 2 years and $12 million is the best Welker could come up with when he finally did hit the market makes that crystal clear.
However, the Patriots should have recognized Welker's value to their offense and acted accordingly in negotiations. The Patriots clearly did not want to pay Welker a single cent above his "market value" and displayed an stubborn unwillingness to negotiate beyond their final offer, which was comically low for a player with Welker's production. They allowed Welker to reach free agency, and as a result Welker will be wearing enemy colors tonight.
One thing that needs no explanation is Welker's desire to get paid. After bouncing around the league as an undrafted free agent (making the league minimum), Welker signed a 5 year, $18.1 million deal upon joining the Patriots. As a result, Welker was paid an average of $3.62 million a year. During that time, he averaged 110 catches, 1,221 yards and 6 touchdowns a year, numbers that are amazingly actually dragged down by his 2010 comeback season from ACL surgery. There's no denying the fact that Welker was due for a major raise after spending the prime of his career being the good soldier and playing well below market value.
Despite that, the Patriots dragged their toes in negotiations, holding Welker's 2012 franchise tag price of $9.515 million against him when it came time to hammer out an extension. As a result, here we are.
So, when it comes time tonight to remember Welker's Patriots tenure, what predominately comes to mind? Is it contract negotiations that appear to have been botched by both sides in hindsight? Is it a couple of foot jokes? Or is it year after year of reliability, toughness and hall-of-fame level production?
Don't get me wrong, once the game starts tonight, Welker becomes the enemy. We don't need to fall all over ourselves being happy for him if he starts converting first downs and scoring touchdowns.
However, when they announce Welker's name during the pregame warmups, do the right thing and give the man the respect he deserves. Remember the six years of amazing production, the countless third down conversions, the toughness and reliability. Give him a goddamn standing O.
I'm here to warn you. If you boo him, especially after all Wes did for your Patriots over the years, you'll just look like a spoiled, out-of-touch jackass; the perfect stereotype of a bandwagon, pink-hat fan. A buffoon with no appreciation or understanding of the sacrifices and dedication required of our players. In short, you'll look like a complete and utter idiot.
The choice is yours, Pats fans. I hope you do the right thing.