- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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At his introductory news conference as a Denver Bronco on Thursday, receiver Wes Welker said there were two teams he was interested in playing for, and it wasn't hard to figure them out -- Denver and New England.
He spoke fondly about his six years with the New England Patriots in his opening remarks, thanking the organization for its trust and the opportunities provided to him. He said he was on good terms with coach Bill Belichick and later added that the hardest part of making this transition, Patriot to Bronco, was leaving quarterback Tom Brady.
"He's a great competitor, a great player, a great friend across the board," Welker said. "I wish the best to him."
There was a sense of sadness in watching it all unfold, mainly for Welker, because while he has landed on his feet in Denver -- and he said all the right things in terms of being "excited about the opportunity" -- it was clear that the way the process unfolded wasn't the way it was drawn up in his negotiating playbook.
The market that Welker and his representatives David Dunn and Brian Murphy of Athletes First thought would materialize never truly did. It has been a leaguewide issue for many players. Prices are down seemingly across the board this offseason.
And to see a truly good guy like Welker, whom Brady called the heart and soul of the Patriots in 2012, get caught up in that was disheartening. A part of him looked hurt Thursday.
Make no mistake, Welker won't be scraping together pennies, and he'll still be catching footballs from a great quarterback with a chance to win a Super Bowl. He'll probably become a fan favorite in Denver because of the reckless, selfless way he plays the game. But here's a question to ponder: If Welker knew the offers from both teams before free agency began, would he still make the same decision?
The last proposal from the Patriots was a two-year, $10 million pact that could have been worth up to $16 million with incentives (although in Welker's eyes a good chunk of those would have been tough to reach). Meanwhile, the deal he signed with the Broncos was two years and $12 million. A third offer from a different team, two years for $15 million, wasn't considered because Welker had narrowed his list to the Broncos and Patriots.
The market spoke, and if Welker had that information beforehand, perhaps he still would have decided that the Broncos represented the best choice for him. But we're not so sure, because one aspect that has been overlooked in some circles is the element of timing in how this unfolded.
Talks between the Patriots and Welker's representatives broke off in the hours before free agency began Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. At that point, after a year of discussions that didn't produce an extension, the Patriots had a decision to make: Risk losing backup target Danny Amendola by waiting on Welker, or move on.
They decided to move on.
Should they have waited? Should it have even reached that point? Those are fair questions, and maybe Welker, after everything he'd done for the organization, deserved another 24-48 hours from the team.
But what if the Patriots waited and got burned by losing both Welker and Amendola? Then what?
This is the cold part of the business, and it's where the greatest empathy for Welker resides. Right or wrong, the Patriots moved on, and when Welker attempted to do the same, the market wasn't overwhelming. It had to be a disappointment, as when Welker went back to the Patriots after the Broncos made their proposal, it was too late because they had committed to Amendola, who had other suitors on deck.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be for Welker, who was an unrestricted veteran free agent for the first time in his career. When asked Thursday what Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said to him to close the deal, Welker told reporters he was actually the one doing the "pitching."
So more than anything, this was about Welker thinking that market would be kinder to him, while the Patriots were fighting the early free-agency clock.
As for the temptation to think that the club's move away from Welker is reflective of a shifting of their offensive philosophy, it isn't. The offense naturally evolves each season, but that had nothing to do with the decision. In fact, part of the reason the Patriots felt like a quick decision had to be made was that if there was one player on the market who most closely resembled Welker as a potent option in the slot, it was Amendola. There was really no one else.
As for Welker, he ultimately found himself in a tough spot. He's a player whose expertise is reading coverages and adjusting accordingly; reading the free-agent market and relying on the professional advice of others to help guide him is something altogether different.
Maybe it all works out for the best and the move to Denver is the best thing to happen to him. But on Thursday, it seemed like everything was still too fresh, part of his heart with his new team, the other part still back in New England.
If Wes Welker had read the free agency landscape better, would he be a Bronco?