In 2006, after two years in the NFL where he caught 96 passes for 1,121 receiving yards the New England Patriots acquired Wes Welker from the Miami Dolphins for a second and seventh round draft pick. Over the last six seasons Welker has eclipsed 100 grabs and 1,000 yards receiving five times. With the Dolphins he had one touchdown. In New England he scored 37 times. Wednesday Welker signed a two year $12 million dollar contract with the Broncos. On the surface it is a steal for Denver. However, it is a business decision for both teams.
It is a huge mistake when pundits analyze transactions on an individual basis. The Dolphins made a splash on the first day of free agency, but likely put themselves in a worse long-term situation than standing pat would have offered. The Welker decision by Denver and New England is very similar to the trade earlier this week of Anquan Boldin to San Francisco from Baltimore.
Boldin is 32 years old and continues to play at a high level. He was one of many reasons the Ravens won the Super Bowl. His number has gone down a little, but not a lot, from his time with Arizona. He is productive, professional, and useful. He makes $6 million a year and Baltimore preferred to allocate that money elsewhere.
For San Francisco, in need of a possession receiver to compliment Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis, a sixth round draft pick was a small price to pay for Boldin. A one year commitment was reasonable for a team that had cleared cap space by trading Alex Smith. The Niners, already with an elite defense, and a young offensive core, believe Boldin could be the missing piece.
Welker is 31 years old. After a career season in 2011, he was good again last year. Since joining New England he was one of Tom Brady's favorite targets. The Patriots did not win a Super Bowl with Welker on the roster. Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandon Lloyd are an excellent, cheaper, and mostly younger core or receiving options for New England than Welker. With greater needs than an older, expensive receiver, the Patriots decided to use that money on Danny Amendola, a younger version of Welker.
The Broncos are a team with an aging quarterback in Peyton Manning, 31 year old feature back Willis McGahee, and two good receivers Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker, who could use a third pass catching option to compliment them. Manning has worked wonders with elite slot receivers in the past, and unlike New England who allowed the fourth most yards in the AFC last year, the Broncos were the best defense in the conference. Welker could be the one piece Denver needs, while that one piece for New England might be on defense, or somebody to protect Brady.
The salary cap does not allow any NFL team to outspend their way to a title like the Yankees are known for doing in baseball. Every team has the same restrictions. How you distribute the cash is what makes one organization better than another. If you spend big money on a player, that guy better return big value on the field. If you let a player walk, you need to spend your cash smartly elsewhere. The question is not whether having Wes Welker is better than not having him. The question is would you prefer Welker, who is likely on the downside of his career, or Amendola entering his prime? Bill Belichick's track record is pretty good.