Editor’s note: In this 10 part series, we will be focusing in-depth at each level on the field from a potential and performance standpoint including who’s likely to be back, who’s likely to be elsewhere and where improvement is needed…
Funny how one dropped pass can overshadow and entire body of work.
Well, make that two dropped passes. Make that two dropped passes in the most critical of situations.
Make that two dropped passes, one of which probably prevented the New England Patriots from winning their 4th Lombardi Trophy last season, and one that may have prevented the Patriots from advancing to this season’s Super Bowl…
…we really don’t know these things for certain, but we do know what happened when he didn’t catch the passes that were right in his hands.
Every Patriots’ receiver drops passes. Every receiver in the NFL drops passes – it happens. But in Welker’s case, happening on the stages that they did, in the situations that they did…yes, they are going to overshadow the 118 catch, 1354 yard season that Welker gave the Patriots in 2012.
In six years, Welker has registered staggering statistics, numbers on a Hall of Fame pace: 672 catches for 7459 yards – and another couple of seasons like those would likely assure the diminutive slot receiver that gold jacket…but the question is, does he do that in Foxboro or somewhere else?
An even better question is, Does he want to continue to do it in Foxboro?
If he does, he sure has a funny way of showing it – and the impending drama is threatening to hold the New England Patriots hostage when it comes to building a team for next season.
When asked if he wants to return to the Patriots, his reply was, “I’m not sure. I’m really not worried about it at all.” – which is neither here nor there standing on it’s own, but you add them to the comments toward the end of the regular season about going to the highest bidder, and it starts to become muddled – and the Patriots can not allow his contract status to impede their forward progress.
For his part, Coach Bill Belichick was his usual fountain of information on the issue – with his C.M. Punk style rants that go on forever, but say absolutely nothing.
But sometimes actions speak louder than words, and the fact that Belichick had Julian Edelman starting in Welker’s place at the beginning of the season, and has been running Tight End Aaron Hernandez out of the slot should speak volumes to Welker – and just in case it doesn’t, I’ll spell it out for him:
If Welker and his agent try to play hardball with Belichick and Kraft again this spring, he will be gone.
The Patriots can not afford to have an already shallow depth pool at the receiver position become even more capricious while dealing with protracted negotiations. If there isn’t some sort of an agreement reached by the start of the start of free agency, the Patriots may be forced to gravitate towards life without Welker in order to maximize their options at the position.
Quarterback Tom Brady wants him back, referring to Welker as the “Heart and soul” of the Patriots…and while that is nowhere close to being the case, it speaks of how Brady views the four-time All Pro – a man that he had defended since the big drop in the Super Bowl.
Other than Welker, There’s 31 year old Brandon Lloyd and 4th year spark plug Julian Edelman at wide receiver…and there’s no denying that the group is in desperate need of some TLC in either Free Agency, the draft or both.
The perception of Lloyd’s role on the team was muddled somewhat because the common feeling among football experts was that the 2012 Patriots were in the market for a vertical threat that could stretch the field – and that’s not Lloyd’s game – that’s not why he was brought to New England yet many feel that his first year with the Patriots was not successful because he did not provide them with the deep threat that many thought he was brought in to be.
Lloyd is a horizontal threat, and a damned good one. Lloyd will take his defender outside the numbers anywhere between 10 -15 yards down the sideline, and his acute spider-sense allows him to get his body positioned to make a difficult sideline catch seem routine, sometimes as if he snagged the ball in a web. If there is a knock on Lloyd it is his propensity to avoid contact. If targeted on an underneath route, he will make the catch and immediately look for someplace to sit down.
And just like any other reciever on the roster, Lloyd would benefit from having a true deep threat opposite him.
Conversely, converted college quarterback Julian Edelman’s game is much like Welker’s yet with more speed and youth. Trying to locate Edelman in space is difficult, but trying to get your hands on the slippery 26 year old is another story altogether. He has much value on special teams as well, proving to be an adept and instinctive punt returner…durability is his concern, as he tends to get hurt in freakish ways and it remains to be seen if he can hold up over an entire season given as many touches as he’s apt to receive.
Analysis: The Patriots need another receiver regardless of Welker’s status – be it by free agency or through the draft. It is likely that the answer to this issue is not on the team at this moment – but there are a few wildcard scenarios.
The first is Aaron Hernandez, who is the proverbial matchup nightmare no matter where he lines up, but has proven to be quite a capable slot reciever and has the speed and wiggle to create separation for long gains downfield – these abilities are well documented. But the real wildcard is the possibility that Belichick is developing former olympic sprinter Jeff Demps to fill a myriad of roles, one of which could be an occasional deep threat, a third down back and a slot receiver made out of pure greased lightning.
Regardless, this is a position that the Patriots need to address with some semblance of impact, and they need to take control of the Welker situation as quickly as possible to afford themselves the time and cap space to bring in that impact player.