Free Agency  

 

Wes Welker/Patriots split years in the making; free agency notes

Forget the numbers.

The final offer that the New England Patriots made to Wes Welker and the one he accepted from the Denver Broncos might have been just $1 million per year apart. But put into context, they might as well have been made on different planets.

Welker finally had enough of the leveraging and squeezing and hardball tactics, and so, like Lawyer Milloy, Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour and even Logan Mankins (who eventually got paid) before him, he told the Patriots where they could stick their value assessment.

This situation has evolved over a few years, not just a few days.

Welker made just over $18 million in his first five years as a Patriot, averaging 111 catches per season and missing just three games despite having an anterior cruciate ligament tear wedged in there. He played out the deal and had the franchise tag applied to him last offseason at $9.515 million. He signed his tender before missing even a single OTA session, then was phased out of the offense in August and September. When the Patriots' tight ends got banged up, the team turned back to Welker, and he again answered the bell with a 118-catch year.

Because of all that -- plus the sentiment that emerged late in the year that New England had come around on Welker's value to Tom Brady and Co., as well as a positive feeling that seemed to exist as recently as two weeks ago -- there had been growing confidence that a deal would get done, even with the trust between the two sides fraying at the edges.

And then New England offered $10 million over two years.

The Patriots might have been better off not making a proposal at all.

The Broncos stepped in, offering Welker the chance to go from Brady to Peyton Manning and bringing what one Denver source called the "real big" recruiting presence of executive vice president of football operations John Elway to the table, and it was over quickly. "He's unreal," the source said of Elway. "Because he's genuine, and he's a guy's guy, some of the same reasons he was a great player. It's his personality, his charisma, his honesty; he's just a good dude."

It's apparent that Welker didn't feel he'd gotten the same forthrightness from New England.

Here's the cold fact: If the Patriots' offer had been exactly the same as Denver's, Welker probably wouldn't have looked at it any differently. It still would've been less than what he'd been offered last July, a proposal that fell well short of what he wanted, and it still likely would've been seen as a bit of a slight.

Look, this cold approach has served New England very well over the years. There's no arguing with a track record that includes 10 division titles, five AFC championships and three Lombardi Trophies in a dozen years. But there's an inherent downside to operating that way, too.

Wednesday's events illustrated that.

For Welker, this wasn't about money. It was about principle.

*****

Now, to bounce around the latest free agency happenings ...

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1) The Welker fit. Want to know how Manning will work Welker into the Broncos' attack? Ask Brandon Stokley. Or Dallas Clark. Or Austin Collie. Or Blair White. The match is so perfect, it had some harkening back to the quarterback's past. "Denver got a steal," one NFC personnel director said. "Peyton's most productive years in Indy were when he had Marvin (Harrison), Reggie (Wayne) and Stokley. Here's something creepy for you: What numbers were Marv, Reggie and Stoke? What numbers are Bay Bay (Demaryius Thomas), (Eric) Decker and Welker?" Yup. Thomas, Decker and Welker wear, respectively, Nos. 88, 87 and 83 on their jerseys. And the connections go beyond that, too. Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase was the receivers coach under Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels when McDaniels was head coach of the Broncos in 2009 and 2010, so there should be some carry-over for Welker in style; Gase should be able to easily meld him in. You can bet, too, that Manning and Welker will start throwing together yesterday.

2) New England's next step. One AFC personnel exec said that he thinks newly added receiver Danny Amendola will be able to step into the Patriots' offense and "do the things they asked Welker to do with no schematic adjustments." He added that it will "take time to develop chemistry; that's natural with a new player. Nuances, feel. Those guys (Brady and Welker) could wink and nod and know what each other were thinking, but Amendola is an instinctive player, and I think he'll develop that in the offseason. It's nothing that shouldn't be overcome through OTAs and minicamp." Obviously, durability is one question when it comes to Amendola. But here's another: Do the Patriots want to do the same things again? My sense would be that the vision remains what it was last September, when Welker's role was being minimized and the Patriots were becoming very tight end-centric. That means Amendola will need to find other ways to make his mark.

3) What can Mike Wallace do in Miami? One Miami Dolphins source agreed this week that the big-play receiver's arrival in South Florida has, in certain ways, Bill Parcells' fingerprints on it. Here's how: Back in the 1980s, Parcells and George Young hatched the "Planet Theory," which held that because there are only so many people on the planet who are this fast, or this big, or this big and fast, when you have a chance to get one of those guys, you do it. Wallace is a "Planet Theory" guy. His explosiveness and field-stretching ability are unique and, as such, change the way a defense is drawn up, taking a player out of the box in the run game and opening up the middle of the field for other receivers. That's Miami's vision: Wallace is a player who brings a unique skill to the table and whose impact, at least on paper, could greatly boost the prospects of guys like Lamar Miller, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline.

4) Ravens getting younger -- with a purpose. We'll have to wait and see if veteran safety Ed Reed returns to the Baltimore Ravens, but anyone looking for an answer as to just what is happening in Baltimore can go back to the team's season-ending news conference. Owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome hammered home the notion that, unlike what happened in 2001 after they won Super Bowl XXXV, they wouldn't overextend themselves to keep last season's title-winning team together. They said the focus was on building a roster that could win for the next five years, not just defend the championship. They've been true to their word. If you were to project a starting lineup for the Ravens today, the only players included who are out of their 20s would be fullback Vonta Leach (31 years old) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (30). After the frenzy of departures, I asked one Ravens official what's next. "The draft," he texted back. I was later assured that Baltimore isn't done. Some lower-profile free-agent additions are possible. Reed might come back, too. But this much is clear: Newsome and Co. have put a premium on financial flexibility and youth early in 2013.

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5) The sagging market at corner and tackle. I mentioned this scenario on Monday, and it has played out as I expected: The overflow of supply and relative lack of demand is killing free-agent cornerbacks and offensive tackles. Clubs feel comfortable sitting back and waiting, knowing good players will slip through the cracks. As of Thursday morning, Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith were still out there at tackle, while Sean Smith, Aqib Talib and Nnamdi Asomugha were available at corner. Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod was bagged by the Chicago Bears at a relative bargain ($7 million per year). Cornerback Derek Cox came off the market at $5 million per with the San Diego Chargers. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is headed to the Denver Broncos on a one-year deal. These developments underscore the decision that many other free agents will likely have to make: Either take a little less than the market would have born in previous years, or go somewhere on a one-year deal and try to hit it big in 2014.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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