Every Sunday, Wes Welker watches football from his couch and comes away with the same thought: I should be out there. It's a feeling that will be repeated today.
Eleven seasons in the NFL, one of the most prolific slot receivers in history, his resume speaks for itself. Yet the 34-year-old remains a free agent in Week 9. He's had opportunities, but never quite the right ones. He's had two visits and two physicals -- passing them both -- but no signed contracts.
He's being selective where he signs -- he wants to be on the right contending team in the right situation with the right coaching staff. Recently, he instructed his agents at Athletes First to reach out to his list of teams again to see if there was a place that was a fit. He's enjoying being home with his wife, Anna, and their two babies. But in his mind, it's time to play football.
The question of why it hasn't worked out yet baffles this season's most decorated jobless player. "The frustrating part sometimes is you look out there on the field and you see guys who are playing, and you're like, 'I should be playing,'" Welker told NFL.com over the phone this week from his Florida home, his two, three-month-old twins nearby. "That gets me a little bit. I love being at home with my kids, but at the same time, you have that itch and you're looking out there and seeing how you can fit in with this team or that and there's never really a perfect plan." The former Broncos and Patriots pass-catcher follows by saying that if he never plays again, he'll know it's meant to be. His family will be at peace with it -- still, they also know him.
"They know I'm a ballplayer," Welker said.
Welker has been overlooked in the past, whether it was a lack of draft status or lack of height. But to be in this position after he accomplished so much -- five seasons with more than 100 catches and 1,000 yards -- is jarring.
What gives? Welker missed time with concussions during his last few seasons, but said he was cleared by Seattle-based neurological expert Dr. Stanley Herring this offseason. He's been training "super hard," first, gearing up for Week 2 when veteran contracts are no longer guaranteed. Then, he kept up that level for two months. He said he's fully healthy, feeling as good as he has in years.
"I was thinking, 'OK, after Week 1, something's going to happen,'" Welker said. "And then nothing happened and then we got down the line and eventually it's going to happen, but then it's been 10-12 weeks of going super hard. But at the same time, you can't overdue it, you want to be ready in case you get the call that week."
That's the balancing act of a free agent.
"You're used to going out there," he said, "even when you're not 100 percent -- but I am." He has tried to time it out so it's the perfect scenario, but nothing perfect has materialized.
"You can't really get mad about it," Welker said. "They're good players. As frustrated as you want to get, you feel like you're open and you're not getting the ball ... but the ball is going to other guys who are getting open."
Will Welker have another chance? That's what he's waiting to find out. He just wants his plan to come together.
"You're watching," he said, "and wish you were out there playing. But you're just waiting."