If the New England Patriots are a smart franchise, and there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that they are, then they should make the smart move and cut ties with wide receiver Wes Welker. They don’t need to put the franchise-player tag on him and they certainly don’t need to sign him to a long-term contract, they just need to let him go. It’s not that he hasn’t performed well for them, but you have to know when it’s time to say goodbye to someone, and for Welker and the Patriots, that time has come.
Welker has by far surpassed all expectations for a player that was an undrafted free agent, and luckily for the Patriots, he’s done most of his damage in New England. But at age 31, it’s not worth it to sign Welker to a multi-year contract. He’s obviously not getting any younger, he’s already suffered one serious knee injury at the end of the 2009 season, and his production dipped noticeably from 2011 to 2012 by over 200 yards and three touchdowns. Welker could still be a productive receiver for the Patriots, but to think that he could maintain or increase what he’s been able to do the past two seasons would be asking a lot, and a bit unrealistic.
New England also has the option of putting the franchise tag on Welker, and bringing him back for one more season with the hope that he still has one real good year left in him, and can still be an integral part of another Super Bowl run for the Patriots. However, keeping Welker in New England with the franchise tag would push his salary to over $11 million, a hefty price to pay for an undersized and aging receiver that is still useful, but limited in his abilities. Besides, after using the franchise tag on Welker a year ago, why do it again this year?
Welker is at the stage in his career where he has earned a multi-year contract, as well as a big payday, but his future performance may not warrant a lengthy contract and the sizeable amount of money that would accompany it. The Patriots have other players in Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman that are both younger than Welker, and have a similar size and skill set. Both players have the potential of mimicking the production of Welker given the opportunity, the same way that Welker excelled once he came to the patriots. New England also has a pair of young tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who are both healthy and capable of causing havoc for defenses all over the field. Even if they let Welker go, the Patriots have the pieces in place to replace his production and his presence on the field.
Despite the great things Welker has done as a member of the Patriots over the past six seasons, it’s time for New England to let him go. Smart franchises can recognize when it’s no longer worth it to keep a player around, no matter the history with that player, and unfortunately for Welker, his time is now. The Patriots are a smart franchise, and the smart move for them, is to part ways with Welker.