Well, the dust is starting to settle. New England is beginning to come to grips with the fact that the most productive receiver in franchise history is gone, no longer wanted by a team that has made a business out of moving on.
Wes Welker is gone and Danny Amendola is here.
“Say it ain’t so, Wes,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, unprompted, to open his Wednesday pregame media scrum. Rivers was truly reflecting the mood of stunned Patriots fans.
Here’s why many Patriots fans are truly nervous, if not upset: You are selling on a soon-to-be 32-year-old Pro Bowl commodity for a 27-year-old future stock when you could've had both in your portfolio.
No one has caught more passes in the NFL since 2007 than Welker (672). He’s led the league three times and caught 118 balls last season. He has been Tom Brady’s security blanket for six seasons. The injury-prone Amendola has played in just 12 of 32 possible games in the last two seasons, his first two as an NFL starting receiver. He has no chemistry with Brady or the Patriots offense yet. How will he mesh? How will he hold up? How will he pick up the intricacies of the Josh McDaniels playbook?
Welcome to the great unknown.
No one in sports is better at coping with uncertainty than the Patriots and Bill Belichick.
It began with Drew Bledsoe when he was hurt in 2001. It continued with Lawyer Milloy in 2003. That’s when Brady learned that this is a cold-hearted business to Belichick. And he learned that the Patriots coach is certainly not afraid of the unknown. As a matter of fact, he embraces it.
That’s when Brady acted out of emotion in the week before the season opener and voiced his mind and the Patriots were blown out, 31-0.
That’s when Brady learned what Belichick always preaches -- past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. Loyalty is secondary to production to Belichick. So, if you think Brady was shocked by what transpired Wednesday, don’t. He knew full well, even when the team reworked his contract three weeks ago, that freeing up money didn’t necessarily guarantee the return of his binky. We assumed it did at the time and we were wrong. Disappointed? Absolutely. Surprised and shocked? Hardly.
After Milloy, there were several more examples: Deion Branch, Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour, Asante Samuel and Mike Vrabel. Belichick has replaced them with names like Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostkowski.
What did Wednesday really teach us?
The Patriots put a number on a player's value (2 years, $10 million) and that’s final. Take it or leave it. The difference with the Patriots is that they are more than ready to have a player leave it on the table and move on, even if it’s just $2 million.
In this case, within two hours, they moved on to Amendola, a player they targeted over the weekend, knowing Welker could leave. The Patriots were prepared to have BOTH Welker and Amendola on their team. They were also prepared to move on without Welker.
All of the above had some level of expectation that their careers would end in glory in Foxboro. But they also knew there was a point of no return with the Patriots, a point where you choose financial gain over competitive advantage.
There are the rare cases. Troy Brown and Tedy Bruschi. Neither was looking for respect in the form of money. Both were given tributes by Belichick that brought out pure emotion in the Patriots coach.
In trying to get a glimpse inside of Belichick’s thought process, I asked Rivers if he had ever spoken to him about how tough it is to keep a great team together in the age of free agency.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations,” Rivers told me. “I’m not going to go into what we’ve talked about. It’s hard to do it. We lost Ray it feels like the same way they lost Wes. You wanted him, you did everything you could and somehow they go somewhere else. Just like we wanted Ray to stay, I know they wanted Wes to stay. It just sometimes doesn’t work out.
“There’s too many other people involved. What’s great is once everyone signs is that it’s the coaches and the players, and no one can get in your group. But once you get into free agency, a lot of other people get involved with decision-making that is outside of winning and losing. I guess that’s why they call it free agency. But it makes it tough.”
The reason I asked Rivers that question is because that’s about as close as you’re going to get into what was going on from the Patriots’ perspective in these negotiations.
Everyone wants to know what happened and why.
Barring the completely unforeseen in which NFL Films -- with Belichick's blessings -- releases a video of the negotiations pitting Welker and representatives David Dunn and Brian Murphy against Belichick and Robert Kraft, we will never truly know what happened.
Sure, Welker and his reps could give his side. Denver showed the love and Wes is looking forward to a new challenge with Peyton Manning, he might say. We all know Welker had his feelings hurt and this was his way of saying enough was enough in New England. He gave his heart and soul and now, it's time to move on.
But don’t expect clarity from Belichick or, for that matter, Kraft. And don’t expect the explanation from the team that so many fans feel they’re entitled to in a case like this.
This is all you will get from either Belichick or Kraft -- Wes Welker had a great run for us here in New England and he worked hard to come back from injury to become one of the most productive receivers in team history. We appreciate all he did for us and wish him well.
But why then, let him go?
Let’s start with the simple. Welker will be 32 when the 2013 season starts. Amendola will be 27. Amendola projects as a slot receiver who could play on the outside, something Welker wasn’t asked to do, and could signal a switch in offensive play-calling by Josh McDaniels.
Then there’s the silent but obvious theory that the Patriots feel Welker had taken too many hits and suffered too many concussions in the last six seasons, the price to be paid for being the best slot receiver in the game.
After this, any guesswork on theories becomes very dicey, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Belichick and Welker didn’t get along. McDaniels and Welker didn’t see eye-to-eye. Welker’s new wife didn’t like New England and being forced to apologize for comments about Ray Lewis after the AFC championship loss.
Belichick will be more than happy to let fans and writers alike fill in the blanks.
To the Trags Bag for the question only time will truly answer: Will Amendola be the answer to replace Wes Welker?
@Sekouking not in the least bit, maybe him and Jennings but not him alone.
@thefofo no one alone would be enough to replace Welker.
@D_Bradshaw_AC until he drops balls in big spots like Welker did, definitely
@CMFoster23 No but it would be a start.
@PaoloVonMac more than enough. As long as Gronk and Hernandez are healthy, the slot is a complement to them. They are the key pieces
@Stevie_stats Yes, Welker 2.0 but younger is what he is. Only question is his health though.
@riddallin ABSOLUTELY, with $ left over.
@mlkatzenstein gonna have to be. What else is out there for slot receivers with talent?
@m_burke42 No. People thinking Edelman and Danny can replace Welker? What a joke.
@njshippee No. But Cribbs/Amendola plus someone else might be better
@swirley01813 Nobody can replace Wes. Amendola and Edelman can take care of some of that burden though
@FramCire If it means adding to the defense... maybe
And another from the Bag: What were the Patriots thinking?
@PatsMemdotCom another cheap move...pats couldn't pony up for a true return stud in Cribbs, so we'll get broken down,used up Washington..typical
@matthewfjensen Trade up for Tavon Austin and sign CBs....they can't draft corners so just sign them.
@ntalukdar3 I can't even imagine what the Pats countered with. How embarrassing for Welker. This is a total bummer :-( #patriots
@MBoissonnault1 Not at all [surprised]! I'm sure Belichick is sick of his "Diva" antics.. Because I know all of us in #PatriotsNation are sick of his stuff
@TheRealJJSwaga see ya later #spenditonD