"I think everybody wants a new deal, but I wouldn't say anything I did this past year would warrant one or anything like that. … You go into the offseason thinking about what you can do to get better, and there's plenty of things I can do to have a better year."
-- Wes Welker
Is there anything more tiring at this point than another high-profile wide receiver admitting that he doesn't feel he did enough to land a fat contract extension? No position has given us more doses of humility over the last couple of decades, with Welker's comments to the Boston Herald on Wednesday as just the latest example.
Sarcasm aside (see, I'm learning), could you imagine Chad OchocincoJohnson or Terrell Owens or Randy Moss saying they don't deserve to get paid after a season that included 86 catches (sixth in the NFL) and seven touchdowns? Numbers, it should be noted, that were turned in during the same calendar year as ACL surgery? Child please.
And that attitude -- the anti-diva -- is why we like Welker so much, right? A total throwback -- it doesn't take Christopher Nolan's imagination to picture Welker as a two-way player in the 1950s. The on-field production doesn't hurt the image either. In four seasons with the Patriots, Welker has caught a total of 432 passes, the second-most ever in a four-year stretch (and methinks an ACL asterisk is in order). That's a pretty good career, 432 catches. Lynn Swann is in the Hall of Fame and he has 336 catches, Kevin Faulk has been one of the best receiving backs in the NFL for 12 years and has 424 catches.
So you've got a hugely productive, team-first guy who (it would seem) wants to stick around New England for the rest of his career. Seems a no-brainer, doesn't it? Put the modesty aside and give him the contract extension he feels he doesn't deserve. Why isn't this happening?
Because Welker is right. He did nothing last year to warrant a new deal, at least a deal that someone with Welker's recent history would probably demand. And I think Bill Belichick probably agrees with Wes and me. Why? Well, in classic WEEI.com fashion, let me give you three reasons …
(Quick aside: Rest easy, none of the three reasons will have anything to do with Foot Joke Fest. I suppose it's possible that Welker is actually pissed that Belichick benched him and is just putting a good spin on it publicly, but I doubt that. And I'm sure the matter is over for Belichick. Again, Belichick had no choice on this one -- Welker disobeyed his boss and then lied about it when his boss confronted him. Cut and dried. I think if Tom Brady had done it he would have missed the first series. That's just how Belichick does business. The idea that Welker might not re-sign with the New England Patriots because of 12 foot jokes is about as ludicrous as the idea that the Patriots lost to the Jets because Welker missed that first series. Also this: If another moron calls WEEI and talks about Jay Cutler I'm going to stick my head in the nearest oven. It's been six days. Can we all move on? Sorry, let's go to the list.)
1. Because sometimes 86 catches isn't a good season.
By Welker's (admittedly high) standard, he just was not the same player in 2010 that we saw in his first three seasons in New England. Not even close. Now it's clearly not a fair ask to have expected Welker -- seven months after major knee surgery -- to step on the field in September and not miss a beat. But numbers are numbers -- and Welker had a serious decline last season. The fewest number of receptions he had in his first three years in New England (111 in 2008) is the 20th-best seasonal total of all-time (see what I mean about standards?) But Welker dipped to "just" 86 catches in 2010. There are reasons for this, of course, and not just the remarkably quick return. No Randy Moss, an increased volume of looks at the tight ends, all that stuff. But none that explain the number that I think defines Welker's 2010 season: 13, his league-leading number of drops. That's eight more drops than in 2009 against 25 fewer catches (he was targeted 39 more times in 2009). If I'm Belichick, there is a benefit of the doubt that I think Welker has earned. I'm sure Belichick is OK with writing the drops off as a fluke and expects Welker to be Welker again in 2011 -- but I bet he needs to see it before he signs Welker to a long-term deal.
2. Where's the precedent?
That's a problem with Welker, who do we look at when we try and figure out what he's going to be over the next, say, four years. There isn't anybody. Given his history of production, his size, the ACL, his quarterback and all the other things that make Welker what he is (including the incredible punishment he takes) you are looking at a truly unique player. When the Red Sox were debating out whether or not to re-sign Adrian Beltre, for example, I'm sure they did a study that looked at players similar to Beltre and how they produced the five years after age 31. (I know Alex Speier did, anyway.) Not hard to do in baseball or basketball, but it's almost impossible in football, the sport that least lends itself to statistical analysis. And Welker is an outlier even by that measure. Too many variables to really have any educated guess on what the future is going to be. To me, it's at least as likely that he'll be catching 100 passes in 2015 as it is that he'll be out of the league.
3. Remember, we have no idea how Belichick thinks.
We really don't. I need don't think we need a primer on this topic, so I'll just ask for a quick raise of hands for those who knew the Patriots were going to trade Randy Moss, draft Devin McCourty, release Lawyer Milloy, trade Richard Seymour, or draft Logan Mankins ... and on and on. William Goldman wrote this about movies 30 years ago but it applies perfectly to the media when it comes to all things Belichick: Nobody knows anything. All guesswork.
So this is just spitballing, but is it completely out of the question to imagine Belichick, looking at the Patriots having the league's top scoring offense (by 75 points) with a less-than-vintage Welker, maybe thinking that the money that might be used on signing Welker be better used somewhere else. Let's take a look at how this offense (at least the skill guys) was constructed around Brady: Two rookie tight ends, a pair of undrafted running backs and a wideout duo that cost the Patriots a second-, fourth- and seventh-round draft pick. Not a whole lot of long-term contracts kicking around with that group, at least not for any real money. Maybe there is a guy out there that Belichick views as something close to what Welker was four years ago, and is willing to take a chance (at maybe a fifth the price that Welker would cost after a new deal) that this offense could still be one of the five or six best in the league with Player X catching 65 passes instead of Welker catching 90.
What's Going To Happen?
It's a curious case. You've got Welker, who probably doesn't even want to sign a deal right now, given that his value is probably the lowest its been in three years. You'd think, then, that the Patriots would want to lock Welker up, get him for 80 cents on the dollar. (Whatever that dollar is or will be -- let's not forget that there's a little matter of a potential lockout.) But nope -- I think they need to see something closer to the Welker of 2007-09 (and, to be fair, some of 2010) before jumping into anything approaching long-term. Both sides would be thrilled with a monster season, which is never the case heading into a contract year. Which, in the end, makes it a unique situation for a most unique player. My best guess? Welker catches around 90 passes next year (I'm assuming there will be a 16-game season, despite the iron-tight resolve shown to date by the players) and signs a deal in the offseason that is probably a little below market value. It's just the way the Patriots do things -- and Welker knows that he's in the perfect situation and will probably live with making a little less for the chance to play with Brady and for Belichick. Just a guess, maybe Welker is steamed at Belichick or vice versa. Maybe Welker wants to play in warm weather, or maybe the Patriots feel Welker has seen his best days (which is probably true). Who the hell knows? I sure don't. You were basically just subjected to 1,500 words of rampant speculation. When it comes to Wes Welker and 2011 I'm sure of nothing.
Well, except this: He'll be the king of "no comments" during the 2011 playoffs.