Although Tom Brady, in his appearance on WEEI on Monday morning, downplayed Wes Welker's decreased playing time so far this season, chalking it up to different personnel groupings, NFL analyst Boomer Esiason had a pointedly different opinion.
Esiason suggested that Patriots coach Bill Belichick is sending the veteran receiver a message.
"I think this has to do with the fact that he didn't sign a long-term contract extension," Esiason said in his weekly WEEI appearance on Monday. "I also think that it has something to do with them trying to force-feed Brandon Lloyd. Bill does some quirky things. It's Bill's franchise, this is the way he runs it. I think Wes Welker being quiet about it tells you a lot, meaning that he does not want to piss off the head coach, the guy that makes the decisions, and he's going to be a loyal soldier. But inside he's got to be burning. Certainly he has a lot of pride for who he is as a football player. ...
"I think Tom Brady gets stuck in the middle here. I don't care what Tom says, it's got to be frustrating that a very dear friend of his on the field is for some reason being made an example of. I certainly don't like it. I wouldn't have liked it if I were the quarterback. But this is something that goes on constantly in the NFL."
Welker did not have much to say about his role after Sunday's 20-18 loss.
"You want to be out there," Welker said. "As a competitor and everything else, especially on Sundays, it's what we work for. At the same time, Coach felt like whatever was best for the team, and I'm for that and I totally understand that. I'm just there to help out however I can."
Esiason, usually an outspoken admirer of Belichick and the Patriots' Way, acknowledged that he doesn't know all the facts regarding the Welker situation, and suggested maybe there are valid reasons for Welker's decreased role (as Brady alluded to earlier today).
"I always thought that coach Belichick is a bottom-line guy. If there's something else going on -- if he showed up out of shape, if he didn't do something in a meeting or if he's been late to a couple of meetings or if he's bitching and complaining internally and this is the reaction that the coach and everybody else has towards it, then those things I can understand. Since we don't know if in fact that is the truth and all we can do is speculate about what the situation is, then I think you're hurting your team by not playing Wes Welker more if in fact you're trying to get a point across that he's not starting, that he's not playing because of a contract issue."
Esiason clearly has his opinion, and he didn't hold back.
"In my estimation, this has more to do with him not signing a long-term contract extension, and them saying to him in a sense that the reason you have those numbers, the reason you are thought of as being as great as you are is because of this offense and the quarterback that you're playing with.
"To me, I always say this, and they say this about the player, too: When you're on the field, you've got to forget about all the negative stuff, you've got to forget about all the contract stuff and you've got to go out and you've got to play and you've got to be motivated and you've got to be focused. I would say the same things for the coaches. You want the best players on the field in order for you to win. I can't imagine -- it just seems that this would be very petty of coach Belichick and coach [Josh] McDaniels for not starting Wes Welker because he doesn't have a contract extension or turned down the contact extension."
ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter also sees the Patriots moving away from Welker, but he thinks it's more a product of the evolving offense.
"They're phasing Wes Welker out in New England," Carter said on ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike show this morning (listen to it here, at the 5-minute mark). "They gave him the franchise tag this year, couldn't come to a long term agreement, paid him $9.5 million for the season. They've devalued the position as far as wide receiver because of (Rob Gronkowski) and (Aaron) Hernandez. They do everything that a typical offense would want from their wide receivers, they get that from their tight ends."