Because the Packers & Finley probably won’t agree to a long term contract, there is a strong possibility of the team placing it’s one and only “franchise tag” on him, which basically means he is under contract for the next year & his salary would be the average of the top 5 highest paid players at his position.
Finley’s 2012 salary if he is franchised as a TE: $5.4 million
Finley’s 2012 salary if he is franchised as a WR: $9.4 million
During this debate, at one point I said if I ran a team I would invest heavily in lineman, defensive players, and QB, as opposed to skill players such as running backs and wide receivers. I mentioned that, similar to Finley, Welker is going to be a free agent this off season and I fully expect the Patriots to place their franchise tag on him, meaning he will make that $9.4 million next year- a hefty raise from his current $2.45 million annual salary. He had signed a 5 year deal previous to the 2007 season (His first with the Pats.)
I think the Patriots will franchise Welker because they have proven throughout the past decade or so that they do not, for the most part, like to allocate their resources in those skill positions. Why? My guess is it has to do something with having #12. It’s been proven that Tom Brady makes every wide receiver he plays with significantly better (which isn’t a surprise, he’s one of the best QB’s ever to play the game). Let’s take a look at yearly averages:
Deion Branch w/ Pats: 55 receptions, 739 yards, 4 TDs (4 seasons)
Deion Branch w/ everyone else: 44 receptions, 559 yards, 3.5 TDs (4 seasons)
David Patten w/ Pats: 52 receptions, 791 yards, 5 TDs (3 seasons)
David Patten w/ everyone else: 25 receptions, 348 yards, 1 TD (5 seasons)
Randy Moss w/ Pats: 86 receptions, 1,301 yards, 17 TDs (3 seasons)
Randy Moss w/ everyone else: 75 receptions, 1,208 yards, 15 TDs (7 seasons)
Reche Caldwell w/ Pats: 61 receptions, 760 yards, 4 TDs (1 season)
Reche Caldwell w/ everyone else: 19 receptions, 237 yards, 1.5 TDs (4 seasons)
This list/these stats do NOT include:
-Players like Jabar Gaffney, who rarely played WR for the Pats and was mostly used as a KR
-Randy Moss’ last season (3 teams, & he basically quit)
-The countless # of WR who played well with NE & did absolutely nothing anywhere else. David Givens comes to mind
-Deion Branch’s rookie season or the season he played for both the Pats and Seahawks
Lastly, If your wondering why I included Reche Caldwell, it’s because he led the Patriots in receiving in 2006.
Here is my point with these stats: Tom Brady makes his wide receivers better. I know there are a million variables that affect those stats above, but I think the point is clearly made that WR are significantly better in New England than anywhere else, because of Tom Terrific.
This bring us to Wes Welker. Here is a brief summary of his pre-patriot career (Got a lot of this from Wikipedia.org):
-In 2004, Welker signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers. Welker made the Chargers out of training camp, but was released after the first game of the season. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer later acknowledged that in terms of roster cuts, releasing Wes Welker was the biggest mistake he ever made.
-Welker then played parts of 3 seasons with the Dolphins. In 2005, Welker was promoted to the third wide receiver spot behind Chris Chambers and Marty Booker. He finished the season with 29 receptions for 434 yards, but did not score a touchdown. He also served as a kick returner and punt returner, and was above average in both categories,.
Side note- Against the Pats in his rookie season, Welker had touchdowns on both a kick and punt return, he kicked an XP and FG, AND recorded a tackle all in 1 game. That's Awesome.
-During the 2006 season after rumors that he would be cut during the preseason, Welker ended up being the lone bright spot of the struggling Dolphins offense. For the season, Welker had a team-best 67 receptions for 687 yards and one touchdown.
So then Welker joins the Pats in 2007. What happened next? He bettered his CAREER totals in the first 10 games of the season in every category. Over the next 4 years Welker dominated, and became one of the best WR in the game statistically. Even in 2008, when Brady went down in week 1 for the season, Welker still managed to creep over 100 catches.
Anyway enough facts. Here’s where I make my case:
Despite the elite stats, I do not believe he is an elite WR in the NFL today.
What does “elite” mean? Dictionary.com says “A group of people considered to be the best in a particular category, especially because of their power, talent, or wealth.”
Now, this is where the confusion lies. I believe Welker is a top 10 WR in the NFL. By some people’s standards, that means elite. The way I see it, there is a small group of NFL WR who are clearly better than Welker. Those are the elite players in my eyes. Here are their names:
Then there is the next tier of guys. Still some of the best receivers in the game, but I would not put any of these guys in the same class as the 3 guys above. (In no particular order):
Brandon Marshall (when he tries)
Vincent Jackson (when he tries)
And these are the guys I could imagine becoming elite in the near future:
Kenny Britt (please be healthy)
Victor Cruz (go Umass!)
Denarius Moore (Kind of a reach, but he is NASTY so you never know)
Yes, I understand Welker has a different skill set than most of these players. His M.O. is quickness, great hands, reading the defense, and making guys miss for a high YAC (yards after catch) total. He is elite at all these things. However, that still doesn’t make him an elite WR in the NFL. Sorry. And I know some people reading this think I am holding Welker’s size against him. Let me make this clear: I do NOT think height = elite or you have to be tall to be elite. Steve Smith was elite for a period of time on the Panthers & he is the same height as Welker. Smith was a downfield threat, he put up numbers with a mediocre QB (Delhomme), and he was always double teamed. And guess what- the Johnsons and Fitzgerald line up in the slot from time to time as well. And they are just as dangerous as Welker. But they have the higher skill set to play the outside that Welker just doesn’t have.
Also- Sorry to say, but life’s not fair for us short guys. So yea, maybe if Welker was 6’3” he would be able to make plays downfield and in the endzone, but he’s not, so he doesn’t, and he cannot be considered elite.
Here are some other possible definitions of “Elite” that support my case:
1. An elite WR makes his QB better, not the other way around
I think it is clear that Tom Brady was just as good pre-Welker as he is now with Welker. Being an already great quarterback, it would obviously take someone very special to actually make Tom Brady better. Someone like... Randy Moss, an elite WR at the time.
On the flip side, Welker was an average player at best before he was inserted into the Patriots offense in 2007. Think about this: What if Wes Welker was on the 49ers? Or Rams? Or Seahawks? Does anyone really think he puts up 100 receptions without a top 15 QB throwing the ball to him? In 2006 with Joey Harrington throwing the ball in Miami, Welker had 67 receptions. In 2007 with Brady he had 112.
2. Elite WR are consistently double or triple teamed & they beat it
Welker is rarely double teamed. In fact, a lot of times a linebacker lines up against Welker, not even a corner or safety. The few times I can remember Welker being double teamed, he was a non-factor. I searched long and hard for proof of this (either supporting or opposing my view) but I couldn’t find anything. However, I do know the Johnsons & Larry Fitz are never, EVER left on single coverage and they obviously put up competitive numbers every year.
3. Elite WR are irreplaceable
Can you imagine what the Cardinals offense would look like without Larry Fitzgerald? Shambles. Look at the Texans offense this year without Andre- significantly less explosive. If Welker went down with injury, the Pats would be fine. Remember when Welker went down with an injury that kept him out of 3 games in early 2010? In those three games Welker missed, Julien Edelman averaged seven receptions per game. That would put Edelman on pace for 112 catches over a 16-game season & he's not even a real wide receiver.
It is doubtful that Wes Welker will be signed to a long term by the Patriots after his franchise tagged is applied. I really hope he IS here long term, but I just don’t see it happening.
My last point is this: Welker is clearly an elite WR in fantasy football. In today’s sports world, number games dominate, so I can see why some people automatically assume Welker is an elite NFL WR. Just think: would anyone consider Welker elite if stats weren’t recorded or kept? I think no.
It’s not elite to catch 8 yard passes & make a guy miss. It’s elite when you have 2 guys all over you and make a downfield catch at full speed. Have you ever seen Welker do that?