|ESPN.com: NFL Training Camp 2013||[Print without images]|
If the recent Sports Illustrated article about Denver wide receiver Wes Welker is any indication, the New England Patriots will regret letting him go.
He sounded like a man still miffed about his treatment on his way out of that franchise. Welker also seems more eager than ever to prove how much he still can do for a football team. The guy we saw in New England was the ultimate underdog. The one we'll watch in Denver is about to reveal how much pit bull he has in him.
|Wes Welker and Bill Belichick, it seems, did not have a great relationship in New England.|
Welker had done an admirable job of restraining his bitterness toward the Patriots until that SI story broke. The sexiest parts of the article involved Welker's comments about how he "had to put up" with New England coach Bill Belichick in the 2012 season and how "it was kind of hard" to endure the chiding Belichick unleashed on his Pro Bowl receiver. It was no secret that Welker wasn't happy with the Patriots' inability to work out a suitable contract with him over the past two years. Now we know those harsh feelings weren't solely related to what was happening at the bargaining table a few months back.
This has to make Broncos fans happy because it means Welker will be even more motivated to make good on his commitment to the Broncos. He's already in position to have the biggest impact of any free-agent acquisition -- based solely on reputation – and there's little reason to think he'll disappoint. Welker, 32, averaged 112 receptions in his New England career. He was Tom Brady's ultimate security blanket and a man who set a new standard for slot receiver productivity.
The Welker Denver will get this coming season should be as big a game-changer as he was in New England. He'll create mismatches, dominate the middle of the field, and leave defenses wondering how to deal with him and fellow wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. If everything goes right, Welker should surpass the 100-catch mark for the sixth time in the past seven years. The only thing the Broncos' passing game lacked last season was a dangerous target working the intermediate areas of the field, and quarterback Peyton Manning should exploit Welker every chance he gets.
More than anything, Welker will have the same dogged mindset he had when he first arrived in New England in 2007. Back then, he was primarily an unheralded punt returner who was hoping to prove what he could do as a major offensive weapon. The hype at that time focused mainly on what a rejuvenated Randy Moss could do paired with Brady in New England. Welker's emergence was a pleasant surprise.
|Competing against the likes of Peyton Manning and Wes Welker during camp has benefited Denver's defense, safety Rahim Moore said.|
This explains why Welker was so upset by how the Patriots handled his contract. A source said he and running back Danny Woodhead were irritated by how little appreciation the Patriots displayed for their contributions once free agency began. Welker was especially annoyed by what he saw as the key element to the Patriots' business model: Get guys when they're hungry, capitalize on their ambition, then toss them aside when the timing is best for the organization.
Of course, this isn't a revelation when it comes to pro football. Every team in the NFL conducts its business in a similar manner, especially when it comes to re-signing older veterans seeking one last big payday. Belichick believed that Welker was expendable enough that the Patriots quickly signed former Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola after Welker left for Denver. It remains to be seen whether Amendola can stay healthy enough or productive enough to replace what Welker gave New England.
The Patriots will miss Welker more than he will miss them. There were many days when this very writer saw Welker as nothing more than an overrated slot receiver who excelled at embarrassing nickel cornerbacks, less agile safeties and lumbering linebackers. That perception has changed. The man is good enough to be included among the league's top receivers because he has generated phenomenal numbers and consistently dominated defenders who've tried to shadow him.
You can expect Welker to be just as dazzling in his efficiency and his reliability this coming season. Denver was the only other franchise he wanted to play for, and Welker brings the studious habits Manning cherishes to the position. Welker also has felt more comfortable being himself in Denver because he's finally free of Belichick's constant attempts to stifle the personalities of his players. It already sounds as if Welker is having more fun at his job after only a few months with the Broncos.
There should be even happier days to come once the regular season arrives for Welker. The Broncos were a trendy Super Bowl pick before his arrival, and his presence only reinforces their place atop the AFC. All Welker has to do now is perform the way we're accustomed to. Given the way he has talked about his time in New England, there's no reason for him to show us anything less this fall.