FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots dropped the ball on another Super Bowl berth on Sunday, and contributing to the loss were a few drops from Wes Welker. It wasn’t the first season-ending letdown for the usually reliable receiver, and the question now becomes how that will affect his future in New England.
Welker finds himself in a similar situation as last offseason, when he was coming off a devastating end to the season and his contract status was unsettled. Now, the Patriots need to make a pivotal decision about Welker’s future with the team.
After last season’s Super Bowl loss, Welker seemed confident that he’d be back with the Patriots. This time, he didn’t express quite the same certainty.
When asked about his future with the Patriots after Sunday night’s 28-13 AFC Championship Game loss, Welker responded passively, saying, “I’m not sure. I’m really not worried about it at all.”
The Patriots have a number of questions to answer and areas to address this offseason, but chief among them should be Welker. He’s been as productive a wide receiver as there’s been in football over the past six seasons, catching almost 700 passes and 37 touchdowns over that stretch. He put up yet another banner campaign in 2012, catching 118 passes to mark his fifth career 100-catch season. So, there haven’t been any real signs of slowing down for the 31-year-old — aside from a few big drops in the last two postseasons, of course — and that should mean more big money for the small receiver.
Tom Brady made it awfully clear that he wanted his favorite target back in a Patriots uniform next season, calling Welker the “heart and soul” of the Patriots during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan on Monday morning.
Brady’s endorsement is a good reason to keep Welker around. Coach Bill Belichick took a different approach to the free agency topic, though, dodging questions about Welker and cornerback Aqib Talib during his end-of-season news conference on Monday.
“We will not make any decisions on any players into the future now,” Belichick said. “I don’t think you can, as much as you want to just go case by case and list each guy and what his deal is. I think that there is some of that, no question — but at the same time, when you’re trying to put together a team, you’ve got to look at the entire team before you just say, ‘OK, well, we want to try to keep this guy. Well, we don’t want to keep this guy,’ or ‘We want to try to get somebody else,’ or whatever.”
The NFL’s free agency period doesn’t start for more than a month, so the Patriots do have time to work out a deal with Welker, if that’s the road they choose. Either way, Belichick can’t afford to sit idly by on Welker again this offseason.
Whether the Patriots decide to extend, release or franchise Welker again this offseason, that decision needs to be a top priority. If he is to return, then getting a deal done sooner would help keep him happy, and if the Patriots are planning to move on without him, then they’ll have more time to find a viable replacement. Either way, the sooner they make a decision, the better.
Welker is a key to this offense, as he has been for six seasons now, and the Patriots dragging their feet on the issue for a second straight offseason will only hinder the team as a whole. The time might not be right now, but the Patriots need to make a decision on Welker before anything else.