Are the New England Patriots Limiting Wes Welker's Playing Time for a Reason?

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There’s a very simple explanation for what is happening between the New England Patriots and the team’s relationship with Wes Welker.

After Welker was third on the depth chart at wide receiver during Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals – behind Julian Edelman – there’s been speculation everywhere about what the hell is going on, but I haven’t heard anybody come up with what seems like the obvious reason for Welker’s demotion. Everything that’s been speculated about has been further off line than Stephen Gostkowski’s pathetic attempt to win Sunday’s game.

Is Welker hurt?

Is his “benching” some sort of disciplinary action?

Is he behind in his preparation because he missed a week of camp?

Is Welker’s absence because Edelman is a better run blocker, and the Pats suddenly value that trait more than receiving ability?

No, no, no and certainly no.

The Patriots are just sick of Welker’s BS.

It’s no more or less simple than that. Welker has been good enough for long enough that the Patriots put up with the little hiccups in both his on-field performance and his off-field behavior. But this off-season, Bill Belichick had his fill and he’s showing it in the only way that he knows how. He’s a vindictive person, at least when it comes to football, and there came a point where enough was enough. If you mess with the ground rules that Belichick sets, he’ll glady get into a dick-swinging contest. And he’ll always win.

He has final say on everything, and he’s not afraid to make a power play. He’ll pull rank every day of the week, because that’s who he is. He runs the ship, and if you start freelancing, well…you won’t last.

That’s what Belichick’s doing. Welker has gotten a free pass long enough, and once the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze, Belichick started to make the Patriots’ all-time leading receiver pay a price.

Just think about Welker’s past transgressions. He’s got three big ones.

1. He made all those foot references in a press conference before a playoff game against the Jets, clearly taking a jab at Rex Ryan. Belichick benched Welker for the first series of the game, and the Patriots went on to get their asses handed to them at home after a 14-2 regular season.

2. He dropped a pass in the last Super Bowl that would have all but iced the game for the Patriots. It was a difficult play, but it was one that needed to be made by a guy who considers himself one of the top receivers in the game. He didn’t make it.

3. He made the contract negotiations between he and the team public this off-season, tweeted about the issues he had with the way the Pats were treating him, then took forever to sign a franchise tender that was worth $9.5 million. He brought the Patriots’ backstage tactics into the forefront, which was perhaps the worst sin of all three of his screw-ups.

And maybe, if the contract stuff was the first issue that Welker had then Belichick wouldn’t hold it against him. Better players get preferential treatment because they help you win, even if the Patriots want to pretend that everyone starts on an even playing field in training camp and they create the roster from there. It’s obviously not true. Tom Brady wasn’t going to get cut if he had a bad camp.

Welker fit into that category, too, for a while. He wasn’t ever in danger. He was the focal point of a great offense, and he was a guy that was universally respected for working hard, doing things the right way and putting the team first. When he tore his ACL in the final regular season game of the 2009 season, he came back ready to play ridiculously fast. He wanted to get out there and help the team.

That’s great, and I’m sure Belichick love and respected every bit of that. But here we are, three gaffes later and three years later, and Welker would have been sitting on the bench for the majority of a game against the Cardinals if Aaron Hernandez hadn’t been injured.

Welker ended up playing 63 snaps, but he didn’t start the game and he had barely played at all in the early going prior to the Hernandez injury. The team was content to go with two wide receiver sets, and Brandon Lloyd and Edelman were those two guys. Welker was on the sidelines, waiting for a chance to get in the game.

But it wasn’t going to happen. The Patriots put up with that foot press conference because Welker had on-field value, big time on-field value. He doesn’t anymore, at least to Belichick. The team already showed how it feels about him in contract talks in the offseason. They were completely noncommittal. I even wrote about it while it was happening. The Patriots thought Welker was expendable this offseason, and that’s why they only offered him the franchise tag or a two-year contract with little guaranteed money. They made the decision that he was no longer indispensible.

Then, he spouted off publicly about the negotiations. Connect the dots, and you’ve got your answer to this whole thing. Want a summary? Wes Welker dropped a pass in the Super Bowl, which could have won the game, showing (perhaps) a sign of declining on-field performance. In an organization that puts such an emphasis on situational football, Welker dropped the ball – literally – in the biggest “situation” out there. Then, the Patriots devalued him and showed it through contract negotiations. Finally, Welker broke the team’s golden rule and made those negotiations public.

Now he pays the price. Whether it’s warranted or not, it’s how Belichick operates. Remember when Spygate happened, and he took out his anger by running up the score unnecessarily on every time the Patriots played. They would be up by six touchdowns with five minutes left and Brady would set up in the shotgun and throw the ball….on first down.

The version of Belichick who organized that whole philosophy, the philosophy of ”F**k you, we do things our way, and no one’s going to tell us differently” is the same guy who is organizing the Welker situation. He’s making a statement, not even necessarily to the public, but to Welker and the team that you don’t go against the captain. You don’t go off course. This isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship and the rules and the punishment are all decided by the same person.

The question, then, is not whether or not the Patriots are better with Edelman or Welker on the field. A blind man could watch them both play and tell you that Welker is a better receiver. Think about it. If Edelman is a little bit better in the run game, so what? Even with the emergence of Stevan Ridley, the Pats aren’t built around the run. They’re not going to bench the most prolific receiver in the NFL for a mostly unproductive former quarterback because they want to get a little bit stronger in their stalk-blocking out of the slot position.

This is personal. It’s vindictive. It’s what Bill Belichick does. It doesn’t matter if we like it or not – you don’t mess with Bill.

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