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Many movie moments could symbolize Wes Welker‘s decision to sign his $9.5 million franchise tender Tuesday and return to the Patriots for the 2012-13 season. Perhaps the Hulk destroying enemy ships in The Avengers. Or Dean Portman showing up at halftime of the JV-Varsity game at the end of Mighty Ducks 3. Really, any clip of someone returning from somewhere and then going on a rampage would do.
But none could do it better than Randy Quaid in Independence Day:
Just pretend the spaceship is an opposing defense and the metaphor works perfectly. Kinda like Welker and Tom Brady.
Despite whatever grief Patriots fans gave Welker following his drop towards the end of Super Bowl XLVI, Welker still had a career year last season. He set career-highs in nearly every possible receiving category: 1,569 receiving yards, 12.9 yards per reception, nine touchdowns, and 77 first downs. He caught an NFL-best 122 passes (22 ahead of second-place Roddy White of Atlanta), coming within one of his career-best.
As great as Welker’s Pro Bowl-qualifying individual accomplishments were, he also greatly improved the rest of the Patriots’ receivers. Rob Gronkowski posted the best season by a tight end in NFL history because secondaries couldn’t focus on him and leave Welker open in the slot. Such decisions too often proved disastrous (just ask the Dolphins in Game 1), and teams willingly risked a second-year player dominating for even the possibility of containing an eight-year vet like Welker.
Seemingly completely recovered from his knee injury two years ago, Welker’s agility and vision made him a lethal receiver across the middle: too speedy for linebackers, too crafty for most cornerbacks. And as Welker wreaked havoc in the middle of the field, receivers like Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Deion Branch benefited from the chaos.
Kudos to Welker for not dragging his contract situation through the mud. He wanted a better deal, the Patriots didn’t want to give it to him, and they franchised him. Welker knew what they would do and, rather than piss and moan, just accepted it. An emphatic statement of support, an enthusiastic tweet, and the issue is over and done with.
But no one should misconstrue Welker’s tolerance for altruism. If Welker has another career year like 2011, he can show every team out there (Patriots or not) that he’s playing the best football of his life. Higher signing bonuses, more “guaranteed” (a phony word in NFL bargaining) cash, more years – a 2012 that matches or exceeds 2011 makes everything possible.
On top of his numbers, Welker’s approach shows professionalism and responsibility. Both of those qualities translate to profitability, because teams are way more likely to work with a player if they think he’ll keep the process to himself. Randy Moss‘ options have dwindled considerably over the last few seasons as more and more teams realize just how much of a prima donna he is. Despite Hall-of-Fame numbers, few teams want to go after a player who’ll air every petty grievance to the press.
And when it comes to the fans, every contract issue seems petty. When you’re making $30,000 a year, you don’t care if a guy gets $8 million over one year or $13 million over two. Fighting over so much money can only alienate fans towards both the player and the franchise.
Welker has shown none of the egotism athletes typically develop when they become on-the-field superstars. His humility is a bankable attribute, same as his speed.
The Patriots didn’t give Welker a longer deal because they’re still unsure his knee has fully healed (and because they’re the Patriots). Had Welker signed for longer elsewhere and struggled, the team might have cut him or asked him to renegotiate. Then he’d be exactly where he is now, except he’d be older and coming off a worse year.
But a second fantastic year and a rational approach to bargaining make Welker the ideal free-agent package, no matter who goes after him. How Welker handled the franchise tag sets him up for the big-money, long-term deal he’s wanted all along. And it gives Patriots fans one more year to enjoy one of the greatest receivers in franchise history.
That, as they say, is a win-win.