What does Patriots’ history of moving on from players early say about Wes Welker’s situation?
|09.22.12 at 3:40 pm ET|
With Wes Welker getting less playing time this year than the four-time All-Pro receiver has grown accustomed to, everyone’s looking for answers as to why. Some say it’s the emergence of fourth-year man Julian Edelman, while others wonder whether Welker’s contract status — he’s signed for the year under his franchise tender and will be a free agent at season’s end — has something to do with it.
If they don’t re-sign him to a multi-year deal, Patriots could franchise (the number for receivers is set to increase) Welker again with the intention of keeping him or moving him (a la Matt Cassel). They could also let the 31-year-old walk.
During his appearance with Mut & Merloni on Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King gave an interesting take on what the Patriots might be doing.
“I think they’re preparing for life without Wes Welker,” King said. “I think if you look at the reality of this situation, Bill Belichick has always — I mean always — had the future in mind when he is trying to figure out how he is going to put his team into play for both the present and the future. All you have to do is look back at Richard Seymour. When you look back at Richard Seymour you realize in essence good players can be traded and can be gotten rid of.”
King said that he didn’t think the Patriots would trade Welker this year, but that if someone presented them a strong offer — such as a second-round pick — the Pats would be wise to at least consider it. Either way, Welker departing even after the season would mark a rather abrupt ending to his Patriots career, which started in 2007. If the Pats were to part ways with Welker during the season or after it, it wouldn’t be the first time Belichick has let a big-name player go while they were still conceivably in their prime. In fact, it’s been established that the Patriots believe in parting with players — even popular ones — a year too early rather than a year too late.
Here are a few examples:
Accomplishments with Patriots: Super Bowl XXXVI Champion, three-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler
Departure: Released prior to 2003-04 season after he wouldn’t renegotiate his contract
The release of Milloy looked even worse for the Pats when he signed with the Bills and helped them wallop New England, 31-0, in Week 1. Milloy had five tackles and a sack of Tom Brady in that game, but the move proved to work out for the Patriots thanks to one Rodney Harrison. The Pats would go on to win the Super Bowl in the next two seasons, with Harrison playing a large role as a defensive captain and one of the most feared safeties in the game.
Accomplishments with Patriots: Three-time Super Bowl Champion (made game-winning kicks in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII), two-time All-Pro, two-time Pro-Bowler
Departure: Signed with Colts as a free agent in 2006
Considering that he was arguably the best kicker in the league and a franchise icon thanks to his game-winning field goals of more than 40 yards in two Super Bowls, the Patriots didn’t exactly bend over backwards for Vinatieri. The Pats had franchised the kicker the year before, allowing him to become a free agent. The Colts, who were fed up with Mike Vanderjagt, inked Vinatieri to a five-year deal, and he’s been with Indianapolis since.
While the loss of Vinatieri was shocking to Pats fans, New England recovered well and have been in better standing than the Colts at the kicker position. Belichick hit in the fourth round on Memphis’ Stephen Gostkowski, who was an All-Pro in 2008 and has been one of the more productive kickers in the league.
Departure: Traded to Raiders for 2011 first-round pick prior to 2009-10 season
Seymour was, like Welker, in the last year of his contract when the Pats shipped him to Oakland. The Patriots had trouble replacing his production, something that couldn’t be done with one body, though they eventually attempted to strengthen their line years later with the signings of Mark Anderson and Shaun Ellis, as well as trading for Albert Haynesworth.
The return from Oakland was very shiny given that the Raiders had picked seventh overall in the previous draft and had significant issues all over their roster, namely at quarterback. The pick promised to be high, much like the 2008 first-rounder the Pats got back from the 49ers (seventh overall) when San Francisco wanted Joe Staley in 2007, but the Raiders traded for Jason Campbell to improve their quarterback play and finished the 2010-11 season with an 8-8 record. The pick ended up being the 17th overall choice, and the Pats used it to select Colorado tackle Nate Solder.
While trading Seymour saved the Pats some cash and salary cap space at the time, the jury’s still out on whether this was a good trade because the jury’s still out on Solder. The giant tackle was taken to be Matt Light‘s successor, but it’s too early to tell whether he’ll prove to be an effective replacement.
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