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Tuesday, I introduced my blueprint for the Patriots offseason…if they re-sign Wes Welker. The following looks at the what the Patriots should do if they cannot sign their best wide receiver.
This scenario would not surprise me in the least.
It would be a strange coincidence that like Asante Samuel, Welker was allowed to walk free after failing to come up with a ball that would have clinched a Super Bowl win against the Giants. It would be just that, a coincidence. The Patriots had issues with Samuel during his time in New England. They never believed he was the player that Samuel thought he was. If you listen to some of the comments of former Patriots, Ty Law, Troy Brown and Rodney Harrison, they tend to agree with that assessment.
Welker has been the perfect Patriot, though, and the only questions with him are age and durability. He is in his 30’s and he takes a weekly pounding because of his size and fearlessness over the middle. How much capital is he actually worth? Would that money be spend better elsewhere? The Patriots, unlike the Red Sox, don’t care too much about fan PR so if Welker does go, don’t expect too long an explanation. There will be an expectation that his departure will not make the Patriots worse on offense or less of a team. That certainly happened with Samuel, and they have yet to replace that position as the pass defense has gotten progressively worse since Samuel signed with Philadelphia.
Without Welker, the Patriots would have an extra $9 million to put towards upgrades. You would then expect either a Brandon Lloyd or Reggie Wayne (or perhaps both) with Julian Edelman moving into the slot. The Patriots could also draft a couple of wide receivers similar to drafting two tight ends in 2010. Michael Floyd of Notre Dame might be someone on their short list, as he is a big receiver who can stretch the field. The only problem is the Patriots’ inability to get young receivers on the same page as Tom Brady, especially at this stage in Brady’s career.
On defense, it could mean the Patriots make a run at Cortland Finnegan to team with Dashon Goldson or Michael Griffin in the secondary. They could also decide to keep Devin McCourty at safety with Patrick Chung and try to bring in Finnegan and maybe Jacksonville’s William Middleton, whose career is trending upward.
The biggest problem with the Welker non-signing for me is the uncertainty behind it. Forget the media, forget Michael Felger calling the Patriots cheap, it’s all about what improves this team over the next 2-4 years. What you don’t want is Brady throwing to Chad Ochocinco and Juilan Edelman in 2012. The Patriots need to come into free agency swinging, like they did in 2003 (Rosevelt Colvin & Rodney Harrison) and 2007 (Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker via trade, Randy Moss via trade, Adalius Thomas, Sammy Morris).
With Welker gone, it makes sense to lock up Rob Gronkowski or you will pay 30% more like you did with Wilfolk and Mankins. The new CBA is in place, a slotted draft, the Patriots have to start locking up guy earlier. It just makes better business sense. This approach of Franchising and then paying, it costs you more in the end. I am not sure why an organization as smart as the Patriots don’t grasp that sometimes.
The Patriots have a couple of avenues they can pursue. They have a talented team, an average AFC field to compete with and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Barring major injury to #12, they can get right back into the fight for 2012. They will need more weapons on both sides of the ball. Let’s not forget they were a dropped pass from missing the big game altogether.
Adding Welker AND Lloyd makes the most sense. It also allows the Patriots to spend their draft picks on defense and perhaps one wide receiver. They can then fill in with some depth drafting in rounds 3-5. Last year, the Giants did little in free agency and got almost nothing from their draft. They somehow found a way to win a Super Bowl. The key difference was they had the pass rush in place, they had a veteran secondary and they had Eli Manning’s late game magic to cover up a lot of mistakes.
If the Patriots try to depend once again on the brilliance of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and street free agents, they will not be so lucky. NFL free agency is so much different than baseball. All the multi-year players will be locked up by end of March so teams can know what they want going into the draft. After the draft is where you see the one-year deals being offered. Also, it’s a time for cuts, especially close to the June 1st deadline. So, this team will probably continue to add pieces right up to training camp. The Patriots are all or nothing usually in free agency, and by Feb. 29, you will know what direction they are headed.