If Wes Welker Walks, Patriots Have Some Serious Work to Do

Ian Logue
February 19, 2013 at 02:33pm ET

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It appears things are about to get fairly interesting with wide receiver Wes Welker.

According to the Boston Herald it doesn't sound like the Patriots will be franchising the veteran wide receiver, which is likely going to open the door for a bidding war to start for Welker's services.  If that's the case, it's tough to feel confident that he'll be back in New England for the upcoming season.

Welker played out his $9.5 million franchise tender before the 2012 campaign and finished with 118 regular season catches for 1354 yards and six touchdowns. It was his 5th career 100 reception season, surpassing Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice for a new NFL record. He also currently holds a regular season streak with 110 straight games with at least one reception.

Clearly he's a big part of the offense, but whether or not he'll be part of it next season is now one of the biggest question marks facing this team during the offseason.

What happens with Wes Welker will have the biggest impact for the Patriots personnel moves during this offseason. (FILE:USPresswire)

"I'd love him to be around, he's a great guy," Kraft said in a report from Comcast SportsNet. "Like I said all along, it takes two sides to make a transaction and then we have to manage the lawyers and the agents that they don't mess it up. I think Wes wants to be with us and we want him here so it's just a matter of whether both sides can be intelligent."

As we know, Kraft has been able to bring together even the toughest of deals, but this may be his biggest challenge yet.

Welker's a great player, let's not kid anyone.  However, they're in a tough position because they need more than his services to finally reach the next level offensively and they still also have personnel decisions to make on the defensive side of the ball.  The hardest part about this is the fact that someone is likely going to overpay knowing how good of a player that he is, and that increases the likelihood that he'll be playing somewhere else next season.

The Patriots reinvented their offense after Randy Moss was shipped off during the 2010 season, and there's no question that there will be a major overhaul in terms of how they operate if Welker doesn't come back.  One of the more glaring areas was his 3rd down production, as last season the veteran receiver accounted for 30 of the 92 completions Tom Brady had.  The next closest player was Danny Woodhead who had 13, followed by Aaron Hernandez (12), Brandon Lloyd (11) and Rob Gronkowski (11).

Welker also had nearly double the amount of first downs, accounting for 21 of the 73 third down conversions they had through the air.  The next closest players were Gronkowski (11) and Hernandez (10).

He's also a versatile player who caught passes all over the field.  Looking at his 118 receptions, the interesting thing is when you look at his receiving chart, he hurt opposing teams pretty evenly.

Here's a breakdown of how he finished during the regular season:

50 Targets, 40 Receptions, 369 yards, 1 TD

52 Targets, 36 Receptions, 390 yards, 1 TD

46 Targets, 33 Receptions, 315 yards, 3 TD's

11 Targets, 6 Receptions, 208 yards, 1 TD

7 Targets, 3 Receptions, 75 yards, 0 TD's

9 Targets, 0 receptions

That's a lot of production that will have to be replaced, and not only do they need to figure out where it's going to come from, they also need a plan of how they'll utilize different players in the passing game to keep them as effective on 3rd down. It sounds simple on paper, but this is team built around playing situational football and it's going to be a little tougher than many may think.

For now what happens with Welker is clearly going to have a big influence over the direction they take during the offseason in terms of personnel moves.  Some would argue that Julian Edelman can fill his shoes, but the two are worlds apart in terms of overall ability - and reliability for that matter.  Welker's missed three regular season games in six seasons, while Edelman's missed 10 over the past two after suffering a broken foot against Miami back on December 2nd before ending up on injured reserve.

Despite what many may think, they're very different players. Edelman certainly gives them a good player at the 3rd the receiver depth spot and he's terrific returning punts. However, if Welker leaves, they're losing a great player and they'll need to at least try and replace him with a couple of good ones - preferably perimeter guys who are in their 20's and can get separation and make plays.

It's a dilemma that won't be easily solved because either the numbers need to work to keep him, or the personnel moves they make once he's gone will need to ultimately make up for the decision to let him walk.

When it comes down to it, the lack of reliability around Welker, not necessarily the drops that people like to point out, is really a major reason Brady and the Patriots are still chasing another title.  That's been the problem the last two seasons and despite his age, Welker's actually been the one who has proven to be one of their most reliable guys. If Gronkowski or even Edelman were active in the AFC Championship this year or had Gronkowski been 100% against the Giants two seasons ago, who knows how either year would have played out?

It's tough to imagine them going into next season with the group they currently have without Welker, so something has to give.  It's a difficult decision and truthfully it's probably one of the most pivotal heading into the final years of Brady's career.  They can't let Welker go without making sure they have enough talent to make up for it, but then again they also can't keep Welker without making sure they have enough money to bring in guys around him who can perform and stay healthy.

As a result it's a vicious circle that they'll need to navigate this offseason.  One thing is for certain, regardless of whether or not the agents "screw it up", the Patriots need to make sure that they don't do the same with how they handle it if Welker is no longer wearing their uniform.