Three-point stance: Moving on from Welker

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
10:36
AM ET

Wes Welker's production with the Patriots over the last six years is close to that of Tom Brady's top receiving duo in his three Super Bowl seasons. Brady’s two best receivers averaged a combined 119 catches in their three Super Bowl-winning seasons (2001, 2003 and 2004). From 2007-12, Welker alone averaged 112 catches per season, but the Patriots were 6-5 in the playoffs since Welker joined the team (12-2 over Brady’s career before Welker).

1. Brady already has other options: So what will change for the Patriots without Welker? The change really began in the 2010 draft, when New England selected Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Since that draft, the Patriots have the highest percentage of receiving production coming from tight ends in the league. Gronkowski (who will be 24 in Week 1 of 2013) and Hernandez (23) are both under contract through the 2017 season.

2. Can Amendola fill Welker’s shoes?: The Patriots will still need that underneath presence. New England targeted slot receivers on 38.6 percent of pass plays last season, highest in the league. Welker’s average target distance was 6.7 yards downfield over the last four seasons (second lowest in the league). The only player with a shorter average target in the last four seasons? Danny Amendola.

Amendola is no stranger to the role Welker had in New England, having worked with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in St. Louis. In fact, Amendola nearly matched Welker's per-game production when lined up in the slot last season. Welker also had 13 drops (four in two playoff games), more than twice the number of the next closest slot receiver.

3. Can the cap space be better used?: Welker will earn $12 million over the next two years in guaranteed money, more than what Amendola’s guaranteed money has been reported ($10 million) for a longer contract. The Patriots may consider redistributing that cap space to their defense.

In New England’s three Super Bowl-winning seasons, the Patriots ranked eighth, sixth and fourth respectively in percentage of salary cap spent on defense. New England was a top-10 defensive unit in yards allowed for each of those seasons.

In recent years, Patriots have invested heavily in the offense. New England’s spending on defense ranked 29th last season, and the Patriots have ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in each of the last four seasons. Over that same time frame, the Patriots’ defense ranked 30th in yards allowed, and 31st in completions allowed, first downs allowed and yards per pass attempt allowed.

The last three Super Bowl champions ranked in the top seven in cash spent on defense. It might help New England to invest these resources on that side of the ball.

Compiled by Doug Clawson, Hank Gargiulo and John Parolin with salary data from Roster Management System.

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