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In the end, it was clearly personal between Wes Welker and the Patriots

03.13.13 at 6:38 pm ET
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In the end, it was a two-year, $12 million deal that pried Wes Welker from the Patriots — pocket change for an elite slot receiver who was the first guy in NFL history to catch at least 100 passes five times in a six-year stretch.

If the reports are true — that New England’€™s best offer was a two-year package for $10 million — it’€™s a sudden and shocking end to a remarkable run in New England for Welker. The receiver, who arrived in New England via a trade with the Dolphins prior to the start of the 2007 season, became the first guy in NFL history in 2012 with at least five seasons of 100 or more receptions. In six seasons in New England, he caught 672 passes for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns.

In all, the undersized pass catcher was an absolutely integral part of the success of the Patriots’€™ offense the last six years. No one did a more consistent job moving the chains in the passing game ‘€“ not Rob Gronkowski, not Aaron Hernandez and certainly not Brandon Lloyd — and even at the age of 31, he remains one of the most durable receivers in the league.

Despite the words from Patriots owner Robert Kraftwho said earlier this week that he hoped Welker would ‘€œremain a Patriot for life, just like Tom Brady‘€ — it’€™s hard not to suggest that there something else was at play here, something deeply personal between the two sides that bled over into the talks. How else do you explain what happened?

The Patriots surely weren’t going to empty the bank account for the 31-year-old — they certainly aren’€™t in the business of handing out Lifetime Achievement Awards. They have almost always paid out for players based on what they perceive to be future value, not past performance. And despite the recent uptick in stats for slot receivers, they are apparently still considered one area where you can cut corners financially.

But in the wake of Brady’€™s restructured deal — as well as the fact that Welker wasn’€™t hit with a franchise tag that would have kept him in New England and paid him $11.4 million — you would have thought that the two sides would have been able to reach some sort of accord on a market-value contract. Now, he’€™ll be making a guaranteed $12 million over the course of two years in one of the only places where he will be able to post a reasonable facsimile of the stats he put up over the last six seasons. The chance to work with Peyton Manning should allow him to put together the numbers needed to spark some serious Hall of Fame debate.

But on a day where he departs, it’€™s also hard not to talk about Welker and his relationship with his new quarterback without discussing the one with his old quarterback. Brady has always been very pointed about the fact that he never interferes with personnel decisions, but you’€™d have to be blind not to see that his recently re-done deal was CLEARLY done with an eye toward making it possible for Welker to return. The bond between the two went far beyond the usual quarterback/receiver relationship. (They went on vacation together, for goodness sakes.) It’€™s impossible to get a handle on what the quarterback might be thinking, but he can’€™t be happy with how this all went down. Honestly, it’€™s hard to believe he re-did his deal with an eye toward signing Danny Amendola, and the thought of breaking in another receiver can’€™t be appetizing for a quarterback who is closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

‘€œNothing surprises me with Wes,’€ Brady said after an October 2011 win over the Raiders. ‘€œHe’€™s the heart and soul of this team. He’€™s been that way since the day he got here. He works his tail off. He’€™s a great player, great teammate. He’€™s become a real dynamic player over the years. He’€™s made some huge plays for us; he’€™s clutch, tough, mentally tough, physically tough. He’€™s awesome.’€

In the end, it’€™s a great pickup for the Broncos. In New England, his departure leaves more questions than answers for a team that had relied so heavily on his production the last six years.

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