Let's start here: The New England Patriots do a lot of things right. While they're not the infallible goliath some make them out to be, the Pats certainly are among a handful of clubs that carry the "model franchise" tag.
That's what makes the whole Wes Welker situation such a head-scratcher for others in the league. And a hard one, really, for Welker himself to understand.
To review, the Patriots saw fit to guarantee Welker $9.515 million by placing the franchise tag on the veteran wide receiver in March. Really, the biggest change between the team and player since then regards a contract negotiation that fell short, leading up to the deadline for a long-term deal in July. The sides weren't close then, two months after Welker swallowed his pride (and his leverage) and signed his franchise tender to end a short game of stay-away.
It's September now, and in Sunday's stunning, home-opening loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Julian Edelman was the team's clear-cut second receiver, behind Brandon Lloyd and ahead of Welker. In fact, had Aaron Hernandez not suffered a bad ankle sprain, Welker would have gotten far less than the 63 snaps he drew.
This situation begs one question: Had Welker accepted the Patriots' contract offer in July -- which was OK on the front end, but gave the team too much long-term control for the receiver's liking -- would Edelman have passed him on the depth chart?
Speaking to NFL evaluators this week, the universal response is that it'd be hard to answer that one affirmatively. And if the answer is indeed no, then this is a business decision, not a football one.
"I'm betting they're prepping to move on from Welker," said one AFC team executive, via text. "It's strange. Edelman is not Welker. ... May be a changing of the guard."
A rival AFC pro scout added that, "(Edelman) is not bad, but he's not close (to Welker), especially when you consider how much chemistry Welker and Brady have developed over the years." Asked then if the move to Edelman makes any football sense, the scout responded, "Honestly, no."
Posed the same question, another AFC scout responded via text, half-jokingly, "It's Bill, so yes. ... More about making a point, that one player doesn't make the team. He held out, they show they can move on without him. Hell, remember, Bill asked Wes if he knew who Wally Pipp was! That's Bill."
An effort to reach out to Belichick on this matter through the Patriots was unsuccessful on Wednesday.
Welker's first instinct is, and will always be, to take the high road. It's part of the reason why he signed the tender in May. He's still the guy who hurried back from an ACL reconstruction two years ago, returning to the practice field four months after shredding his knee. So you won't hear him fly off the handle about his situation. But even if he wouldn't say it, this process has been hard on Welker over the last six months, according to those around him, and has gotten progressively more difficult recently.
It now seems the chances that the Patriots will tag him again -- at the $11.418 million it would cost in 2013 -- are near zero. It's also highly unlikely, after what he's been through, that he'd take a discount to stay. A trade is possible, but with Hernandez down and an acquiring club unable to sign Welker long-term by rule until after the season, there are complications there, as well.
And that makes the Welker situation a fascinating one to watch going forward.
Last week, when Hernandez went down and Welker's playing time shot up, the Patriots showed, in their actions, that when they absolutely had to have a play, they were going back to No. 83.
This is one of those have-to-have-it weeks for the Patriots. Someone's coming out of the Sunday-night showdown in Baltimore at 1-2. That team will carry that loss to another prime AFC contender into the playoff race. Hernandez won't be back for a while, and Lloyd and Brady fought communication problems last week. Long story short, Welker's presence should, logically, be important.
All the football reasons in the world say Welker will play a big role in a big spot this week. So at the very least, we'll get an idea of just how deep the Patriots are willing to let the business side interfere with what happens between the lines.
And now, my forecast on what will happen between those lines across the country ...
Albert Breer went 8-7 on his predictions for Week 2, giving him a 17-13 record on the season. How will he fare in Week 3? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
GIANTS 31, PANTHERS 27.*Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network.* The Giants' defense has to come around, right? The secondary will get a boost from Prince Amukamara's return to the lineup, but the Panthers will still get their yards. And they'll also give up way too many to Eli Manning, even with Hakeem Nicks shelved.#NYGvsCAR
RAMS 20, BEARS 17. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX.Jeff Fisher was my preseason selection for Coach of the Year, the Rams were my pick for NFC West champs (could use a do-over on that one, just because the Niners look so good), and Matt Forte just got hurt. So yes, I'll take St. Louis. The Rams' rising young defense will give Jay Cutler fits and carry the day here.#STLvsCHI
COLTS 31, JAGUARS 21. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS. Because of the depth of his game, Andrew Luck is the best prepared of the five rookie starting quarterbacks to adjust as defenses adjust to him with film now available. And that means, on this Sunday, that Indy will match its 2011 win total in Week 3.#JACvsIND
JETS 20, DOLPHINS 10. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS.Reggie Bush is, a half-dozen years later, looking like the player everyone (myself included) thought he'd be coming out of USC. But this week, sledding will be tough, and my guess is Rex Ryan finds a way to put the game in Ryan Tannehill's hands.#NYJvsMIA
49ERS 45, VIKINGS 10. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX. Part of being an elite team is the ability to quickly nuke an inferior opponent. The Niners already took care of a couple NFC North contenders in Detroit and Green Bay. And here, they'll stomp on the division's doormat.#SFvsMIN
SAINTS 38, CHIEFS 34. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS. The heat's been turned up in both places, and someone's coming out of this one at 0-3. My assumption is the Chiefs players who said they wanted Romeo Crennel to be their permanent coach will stand up for him this week. And that, with Drew Brees' back to the wall, it won't be enough.#KCvsNO
LIONS 34, TITANS 17. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX.Jim Schwartz returns to Nashville for the first time, and his new team just so happens to be a matchup nightmare for his old one. The Titans won't have an answer for the Lions' passing game, nor will they have an easy time blocking Detroit's D-line.#DETvsTEN
REDSKINS 27, BENGALS 20. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS.Mike Zimmer voiced his displeasure for the Cincinnati defense this week, and with good reason. The Bengals have allowed more than 400 yards in each of their games, a total of 71 points and a staggering 37 plays of 10 yards or more. Nice landing for Robert Griffin III's FedEx Field debut.#CINvsWAS
EAGLES 16, CARDINALS 13. Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX. I asked Kerry Rhodes if stifling Brady's offense last week made the Cardinals' defense elite. Adrian Wilson interrupted: "Nope." Maybe playing the league's top-ranked offense will change Wilson's mind? The Cardinals' D will shine, again, here. But it won't be enough.#PHIvsAZ
FALCONS 21, CHARGERS 17. Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX. Count me among those who think the Falcons' fast start is a harbinger of big things to come. You can see Matt Ryan free-wheeling more under Dirk Koetter, and also Mike Nolan helping the defense add a needed play-making element. Don't look now, but 6-0 is in sight for Atlanta.#ATLvsSD
TEXANS 24, BRONCOS 20. Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS. Even now, I think there's still a score to settle here for Texans veterans, who long endured Peyton Manning blocking their path to the playoffs during his days with the Indianapolis Colts. Winning in Denver, against No. 18, will be meaningful for a team that's smoothly kicked its game to another gear.#HOUvsDEN
STEELERS 31, RAIDERS 10. Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS. Two things we know after two weeks:
2) Reggie McKenzie's salary-cap purge has taken its toll on a roster that now needs to be rebuilt.
RAVENS 23, PATRIOTS 20. Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC.Ravens CB Lardarius Webb on if the tight ends are now the key for New England, rather than Welker: "The key is Tom Brady. I thought everyone knew that. Without him, that's a totally different team." So yes, the Patriots will endure without Hernandez. But not without a bump or two.#NEvsBAL
PACKERS 27, SEAHAWKS 26. Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. An enormously entertaining Monday nighter, and a potential coming-out party for Russell Wilson and a promising Seattle bunch. I don't think the Seahawks quite pull it off, but either way, I bet they'll garner much more respect nationally on Tuesday morning.#GBvsSEA