Any fan of the Patriots knows this day must come. Adam Vinatieri wasn’t going to get paid for past success, or for the sentimentality that comes with being a great player for the franchise. He was a kicker. A kicker. The Patriots had to make a business move.
Richard Seymour had to go, too. He was going to ask for too much money, and the Patriots had a future to account for. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a solid player, but the Patriots bet on the right side of that fluke as well. He left New England fumble-free and is now a vanilla back for someone else.
Asante Samuel was great, but replaceable (well, the jury is still out on the secondary situation — but Samuel hasn’t been lights-out since he left). Ty Law was old. Deion Branch was asking for too much for his position, no matter how good of buddies and he and Tom Brady were.
This day must come. But you know what, Patriots? It didn’t have to come like this.
Brady is probably never going to share his thoughts on what went down with the Welker situation, but the early report — that he’s “bummed out” — is a justification of what everyone knows and feels. Of course Brady is bummed out. He just lost a friend, a non-whining receiver who always bounces back up and a guy who has been there in the crazy mix that these last few years have been, of huge highs and messy lows.
Then there’s the whole thing where Brady restructured his deal just so Welker could stay, and where Brady appears doomed to retread the ground that left him so angered in 2006, when the team wouldn’t bend to re-sign Branch. Welker was screwed this time around, but Brady has legitimate gripes if he wants to raise them, too.
What stinks about Welker going to the Broncos, though, was not that he had to leave. At some point, they all do — except Brady (although even that was in question after the Welker freeze-out last fall — what a crotch-kicker that everyone saw this coming then). The Patriots will make the smart business decision every time, and they have sustained success to thank for it.
What stinks is how players get run over in the process of the team making those smart business moves. If the Patriots have to let the players go, fine — but why the dance? Why act like it could have been different? Why give Welker the illusion that he could stay, or — God forbid — that the Patriots really, really wanted him, and that they really, really wanted him to go out as he should have?
The Patriots don’t do that kind of thing. They don’t make sentimental deals, and they don’t bend over for players. So why did they pretend they were going to try with Welker?
What burns with a situation like Welker’s is that he saw what was coming, and he kept doing what was right. He played the games, even the ones where he didn’t get the reps he should have. He said the right words, even when he knew what was being communicated. He came back to the negotiating table, even when he knew it was all but done, if in fact these were the Patriots. (Isn’t it nice that they already had Danny Amendola stashed away?)
Someone out there let poor Wes think that maybe he would be different. Law, Seymour, Samuel, Green-Ellis, Vinatieri were all expendable, but Welker — no, Welker would be kept.
No, he wouldn’t. The Patriots knew it, and they strung him along. They gave him an offer to give him an offer, to make the appearance that they would like to keep him, but they knew he wasn’t in their long-term plans. They did the PR move, but they didn’t give him his due respect.
It’s a great business move, and a wise team decision. There’s no doubt the team will be stronger if the offense evolves beyond the point where Welker and the limited amount that can be done from the slot position are holding it together.
But the Patriots should have said that. They should have explained to Welker that, as good as he had been for the team for so long, and as much as they love him, it just wasn’t making sense going forward. They weren’t going to mortgage the team for a 31-year-old whose value was in helping the team cover a weakness, rather than restructure the team to avoid that weakness. Instead, they’re going to bet their money elsewhere, and bring in an injury-prone 27-year-old to fill the role but leave that position less vital.
It’s all eerily similar to the situation over at the Garden, where the Celtics picked a kid with bum shoulders and let Ray Allen go. The key is that it was never about the kid with the bum shoulders. It was more about the team being better without Allen — maybe not this year, but sometime soon. At some point, the beloved veteran has to go for the team to begin to imagine what it should look like, and then to go there. The Celtics will one day be better without Allen, as hard as it was at first to see him flourish with the Heat.
The Patriots will one day be better without Welker, although he will flourish with the Broncos.
But they didn’t have to be such jerks about it.
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