WR is obviously a position of great uncertainty and lack of depth for 2013, and one that is very charged right now in terms of people's opinions, especially regarding Wes Welker. The intent of this thread isn't to debate Welker's value or abilities, but to discuss some possible implications of the WR position from both a cap and a long term roster perspective, and how these might affect the possible short term direction of the team. 1. The cap situation. I think it's important to consider the WR and TE positions as interrelated, since Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are likely to be 2 of Brady's top targets for the foreseeable future. Last year the Pats chose to sign Brandon Lloyd as a FA, and used the franchise tag on Wes Welker. Following their inability to come to a long term deal with Welker, the team subsequently signed Rob Gronkowski (July) and Aaron Hernandez (August) to lucrative long term deals, with both players ironically being hurt during the season, and Welker stepping up to take over some of their load as the focal point of the offense. The 2012 NFL salary cap was $120.6M. The Pats spent $17.415M of that (14.4%) on those 4 players: - $9.515 M Welker - $2 M Lloyd - $2.61 M Gronk - $3.29 M Hernandez New England Patriots Salary Cap 2012 The salary cap is projected to stay fairly flat for the next several years. It's estimated at $121M for 2013. While new TV revenues kick in for 2014, many predict that the cap will stay flat through 2014 and 2015, and perhaps longer. Robert Kraft has generally been very conservative regarding the cap - he was one of the most conservative owners regarding the rules for the uncapped year in 2010, and regarding predictions for the 2013 cap. My guess is that he will remain conservative regarding his planning for the salary cap and team spending, and will take a fairly tight line. Because of the commitments to Lloyd, Hernandez and Gronk, the team already has substantial financial resources tied up in the TE/WR position for the foreseeable future: - 2013: Gronk $2.7M, Hernandez $4.07M, Lloyd $4.5M = $11.27M - 2014: Gronk $3.8M, Hernandez $4.2M, Lloyd $5.5M = $14.5M - 2015: Gronk $8.6M, Hernandez $5.8M = $14.4M - 2016: Gronk $6.6M, Hernandez $8.5M = $15.1M New England Patriots Salary Cap 2013 New England Patriots Salary Cap 2014 New England Patriots Salary Cap 2016 New England Patriots Salary Cap 2016 Lloyd's deal would actually increase his cap hit by cutting or trading him this year, and would still accrue $2.5M in dead money if he were cut in 2014, so he may be here for 2 more years. So unless the cap goes up significantly, or unless some significantly restructuring of those deals can be done, the Pats don't have a lot of money to spend on the WR/TE position without chewing up an inordinate amount of their cap space. My personal guess is that this means that it's unlikely that Welker or anyone else gets signed to a lucrative long term deal, so I wouldn't hold out much hope for Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace. Maybe they could squeeze someone like Brian Hartline in, but even that might be tricky. Mo has argued that the Pats made a mistake by not paying Welker and by handing out big deals to Gronk and Hernandez too early. Given their injury history, it's possible that he's right. But regardless, those deals are done. My guess is that the Pats need to come up with an economic long term approach to the WR position given their cap situation and the prospect of a flat cap. 2. The offensive bottleneck issue. In 2009 the Pats' offense targeted Wes Welker (162) and Randy Moss (138) on 300/592 pass attempts, or 50.7% of all passing plays, and 28.3 (300/1058) of all offensive plays from scrimmage. BB noted on "A football life" that the offense had "nothing" besides Welker and Moss, and was all too easily shut down. In 2012 the Pats' offense targeted Wes Welker (174) and Brandon Lloyd (130) on 304/641 pass attempts, or 47.4% of all passing plays, and 26% (304/1164) of all offensive plays from scrimmage. Not that tremendously different. Add in Gronk or Hernandez as a 3rd option - since the Pats generally didn't have both of them in most games - and the number increased to 72.8% of all passing attempts. Obviously, injuries made a big difference, and perhaps if we'd had both Gronk and Hernandez at the same time things would have been different. But the Pats' passing offense didn't spread the ball around very much. In the AFCCG Brady targeted Welker (12), Lloyd (14) and Hernandez (14) on 40/54 pass attempts (74%), and 40/82 of all offensive plays from scrimmage (48.7%). 3. The options for 2013 and beyond Lloyd, Gronk and Hernandez are all here for 2013, and probably 2014. So are the RBs. The question is the rest of the WR position and how to best fill out the offense, from both a cap and an offensive scheme perspective. The options would seem to include: - Re-sign or re-tag Welker, and possibly Edelman, and add either a FA WR or a rookie. With $11M already tied up in 3 receivers and a flat cap, this is going to probably cost upwards of $20M in cap hit for 2013 and beyond, which would seem prohibitive. - Let Welker walk and sign a big name FA like Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace. Same problem. - Re-sign Julian Edelman and sign a mid-range FA like Brian Hartline and draft 1 or more rookies. Maybe a feasible way to go, but still pretty expensive, as Edelman and Hartline would probably cost $7-8M to sign together. - Trade for someone like Percy Harvin or Jeremy Maclin. I think this is a bit of a fantasy, assuming that we could pry them loose, since both are in the last year of their deal, and would want a big contract. Even if we could get them cheap it would only be for one year. - Draft a rookie WR in the 1st round and hope we get lucky. I personally don't hold a lot of hope in a rookie WR stepping in and making an immediate impact. It's hit or miss, and relatively few rookie WRs have hit right out of the gates, even ones who have gone on to be very good. Note that BB has never drafted a WR in the 1st round with the Pats, not that that necessarily precludes him from doing so. - Copy the RB approach and adopt a "WRBC" approach. I personally like this. The Pats were successful early on spreading the ball around to a group of WRs none of whom was individually elite. Drafting 2 or even 3 rookies with different skill sets - maybe in combination with a low cost FA signing - might provide low cost depth for 3-4 years the way the Pats have been successful at the RB position with Ridley, Vereen, Woodhead and Bolden. Spread the ball around, don't target anyone as much as Welker has been targeted. Use the TEs and RBs as the focal points of the offense (assuming the TEs can stay on the field). Realistically, the Pats aren't going to replace Welker's productivity with one guy. This is cost effective, and the 2013 draft is very deep at the WR position. One problem with this approach is that the Pats don't have many draft picks this year. Another problem is that they haven't had a very successful track record with rookie WRs. - Converting RBs to WRs. The Pats have a glut of RBs with movement and receiving skills (Vereen, Woodhead - if re-signed- and Demps) and a paucity of WRs. Why not move one of the RBs to WR, or make him a hybrid RB/WR in the Dexter McCluster mold? I personally wonder if the Pats may have been doing this with Demps when they chose to put him on OR for 2012, after seeing what he could do in the preseason. They may have decided that he had more value developing his skills and being used as a low-cost receiving option in 2013 than being used as just a return man in 2012. Just a guess. Just some thoughts to kick around. I'm sure there will be a diversity of views on how the Pats ought to proceed.