What Belichick’s History Tells Us About Wes Welker’s Situation

The Patriots lost their home opener for the first time since 2001 with a 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It was perhaps the most unexpected loss in recent memory for the Patriots.

The actual game however, will likely be overshadowed this week by scrutiny over the usage of franchise wide receiver Wes Welker.

Welker did not start the game (though he was announced as a starter) and only entered the game after Aaron Hernandez suffered an ankle sprain that will likely keep him out until November.

Whether it is Tom Curran and Ron Borges arguing over the use or Welker, or sports radio hosts and callers and Twitter NFL experts angrily questioning whether Bill Belichick knows what’s best for his team.

Greg A. Bedard tries to cover all possibilities – Role of Patriots’ Welker further in doubt

Karen Guregian asks if we’re nuts to wonder what is going on here – Again, Wes isn’t more

Tom E. Curran says even Welker seems mystified at what’s happening – Welker was a backup plan vs. Cardinals

While it’s natural to look in from the outside and wonder what is happening here, looking back through the Bill Belichick era, three situations come to mind that may shed light on what is going on here.

In so many ways this is reminiscent of the Lawyer Milloy situation nine years ago. The reaction outside of Gillette is almost the same as well. Even though Welker has not been cut or traded, check out these Boston.com “Ask Nick” columns from September 5th 2003 and September 12, 2003.

Does that reaction sound similar to what is happening right now? With Milloy, there were a couple of things that led to his release – his contract and his play. Belichick felt that Milloy wasn’t the player he had been even two years before, and wasn’t worth the contract that he was playing under. They tried to get him to take less to be more in line with what they thought he was worth, and it was certainly in Milloy’s right to refuse a paycut.

Milloy refused, and he was cut the week before the season began. The Patriots had signed Rodney Harrison in the offseason and felt that he would replace Milloy’s production at a more reasonable price. Read the hysterical reaction in those “Ask Nick” columns and then look back at how things turned out.

Belichick and the Patriots saw something that needed to be changed and made that change, unpopular as it was. Nine years later, people are still acting like Belichick is a simpleton who has no idea what he’s doing when it comes to his football team. The Patriots made a similar call to the Milloy one when they traded Richard Seymour to Oakland the week prior to the 2009 season. It was again a production/value call for them, knowing they likely would not be able to sign Seymour after the season. Instead of letting it play out and getting nothing, they got a first round pick.

It’s a fact that Welker has been historically productive during his time here. It’s also a fact that he’s been underpaid during that tenure. He’s been good value for the Patriots. He’s also 31 and has taken a lot of pounding over the last five-plus seasons. He’s getting the biggest payday of his career this season. He could make more next year. The Patriots need to decide whether his production is going to continue and whether the value is there, or whether they can get similar production at a better value. That sounds cold, but its reality. It makes zero sense to give him big money for extended years because “he’s earned it.” You don’t do business that way. Milloy was beloved around here. Welker is probably even more beloved. But the Patriots are going to do what is best for the team. They’re unlikely to cut Welker right now, since his contact is guaranteed for the season, but they need to see whether it is worth extending his tenure here.

Let’s now go back two years for the second situation. The duo of Welker and Randy Moss had been as productive as any combination in football. But even in 2009, as documented in the Bill Belichick – A Football Life episode Belichick knew that the offense was flawed, and that they were entirely too reliant on those two players. He was proved correct. That team was perhaps the weakest of the post 2001 era, and I include the 2002 team in that. I don’t think even Richard Seymour would’ve made a huge difference for them. They got smoked in the wild card game by the Ravens, and in that offseason, changes began with the drafting of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

The 2010 season began and Randy Moss, a smart player, could see what was going on. The offense was changing. His own contract was up at the end of the season, so he went about making noise about it. There was an alleged shouting incident on  a plane ride home from Miami, following a game in which Moss was targeted just once and did not catch a pass. Moss was traded to Minnesota shortly thereafter. Deion Branch was brought back, a player who had the confidence of Brady and who would assist in the transition by offering a familiar target while the offense transitioned to an increased focus on the short game and multiple tight end sets.

The offense took off after that point, and even though the season ended with another disappointing one-and-done in the playoffs, the offensive transition was moving forward. Last season it continued, with a record season from Gronkowski and sensational seasons from Hernandez and Welker. But still, the season ended in disappointment when the New York Giants again exploited the weaknesses in the schemes. For most defenses the Patriots offense was more than they could handle, but for certain squads with the ability to get to the quarterback, the offense still could be disrupted. More tweaking was needed. A healthy Gronkowski would’ve helped in the Super Bowl, but the Giants still pretty much did what they wanted in that game.

Exit Bill O’Brien, (re)enter Josh McDaniels. While the offensive philosophies would essentially stay consistent, the role that Welker plays is clearly under examination here. They seem to feel that the offense has been too reliant on Welker and they want to do some other things here. (Game one in Tennessee seemed to indicate they wanted to run the ball more, but yesterday seemed to set that back a bit.) The offense is transitioning again, and like Moss in 2010, Welker has seen a decreased role in the early going. The injury to Hernandez yesterday seemed to have thrown a wrench in the plans for the offense, putting Welker back into a bigger role than they originally had planned.

It might well be that the Patriots want to save wear on Welker for the long season, or there is the third example from the Belichick era that is worth looking back on and seeing  if it applies here. Bedard and Curran have both said Edelman had a better camp than Welker. Outsiders would have a hard time believing that Edelman could out-play Welker.

In the summer of 2001, Drew Bledsoe was firmly entrenched as the Patriots franchise quarterback. He had even signed a huge contract reflecting that. Nothing seemed more certain than that Bledsoe would be the quarterback of this team. But quietly that summer, the guy who had started the previous season as the fourth-string quarterback impressed the coaches with his preparation, work ethic and improvement. By the time the preseason ended, Tom Brady was the clear number two QB, and according to some, there was talk that Brady could already start over Bledsoe. The Patriots were lackluster in their first two games under Bledsoe, and a hit late in the second game which sidelined Bledsoe opened the door for Brady, who never gave up the job.

In the video above where Curran and Borges argue, Borges laughs at and ridicules the notion that anything can be learned by watching training camp and preseason. He states that he prefers to watch real games to make his judgements. Of course Borges was leading the pack early on in saying that Brady couldn’t play and that Bledsoe should get his job back. Could it be that the coaches are simply going with the player that they feel give them a better chance to win at this time, no matter what perception outside of their circle is?

When the team makes these kinds of tough decisions, the early results are not always pretty, which just amps up the criticism. In Brady’s second start, against the Dolphins, he looked dreadful, and the team sat at 1-3. He threw four picks in Denver to drop the team to 3-4, before they caught fire, losing just one more game the rest of the season. After Milloy’s release, the Patriots lost to Buffalo and their newly signed safety, Lawyer Milloy 31-0. Drew Bledsoe quarterbacked that Bills team which added even more fuel to the fire.  After the Seymour trade, the 2009 Patriots struggled most of the season.

But on the balance, the Patriots make decisions for what is going to be best for the long term stability and success of the franchise. Most of their decisions have worked out. (You can debate the Seymour one, but I’d say he was gone anyway, and that team wasn’t winning the Super Bowl that season even with Seymour.) I’d say overall the track record is pretty good here.

Tell me who has been better over the last decade. Does it mean they’re immune from criticism? Of course not.

But trust me, the people inside that building generally know more than you or the media do. Whatever the reason that Wes Welker’s workload has changed in the early part of this season, they have a damn good reason for it. They’re just not going to tell you. Nor should they.

In mind, it comes down to one of two things:

Either the Patriots offense is changing to be less reliant on what Welker brings to it (either for strategic reasons or in anticipation of losing him), or, the Patriots feel that Julian Edelman is more deserving to be on the field at this time.

  • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

    Excellent take on the situation. Of course given Hernandez injury i guess we won’t know for sure whitch direction the Pats offense was going with Welker (for now). It’s “all hands on deck” time and Wes will get plenty of playing time. ….of course if Salas plays next week and gets more snaps then Welker maybe then I’ll buy into the “conspiracy theories”

  • http://twitter.com/theaisleseatcom Andy Dursin

    Perfectly said Bruce. I’m sure Felger will be “raging against the machine” and lobbying for Welker to get a lifetime achievement contract — but life doesn’t work that way. That Borges-Curran video says it all…why does Borges continually think he knows more than Belichick and co. do about running their own franchise? Pats would have never won anything if Bledsoe remained the QB here.

    • DrakeW

      They won a Super Bowl with Bledsoe here.

  • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

    2 games…..slow down and breathe deep. No matter whether he started or didn’t start, Welker did have 5 catches for 95 yards yesterday. (and dropped another catchable ball) Given Hernandez injury NOBODY really knows how much (or little) he would have played for sure…..Welkers playing time wasn’t the reason the Pats lost….turn off your radio and step away from it.

  • http://bostonsportsmedia.com/ Bruce Allen

    The critics howl because they have a record offense that doesn’t win the Super Bowl. The goal isn’t home field, it’s to win the Super Bowl, something they haven’t done since Welker became their main weapon. Is it his fault? Of course not. I think Belichick would say that having that record offense doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win it all. In #11 perhaps they’re playing a slot receiver who can do more of the things they’re looking to do in whatever new schemes they want to establish. Maybe its more blocking. Maybe it’s a little more size or ability after the catch. I don’t know, I just know that whatever they’re doing, it’s for a reason.

    The suggestion that they would hurt themselves by freezing out their their top player out of spite because he hasn’t capitulated to a contract extension on their terms is far more laughable than anything I suggested.

    • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

      exactly Bruce, your last paragraph says it all. BB has been here for over 10 years now. The fact that some people think he would “freeze out” a player to prove a point or be vindictive at the expense of team success is ridiculous…..I’m not even sure the way he’s handled Welker’s playing time this year this is the RIGHT way, but I highly doubt he’s doing it to “punish” Welker….whatever, the point is almost moot now because with Hernandez out Welker is going to have to play alot…..This “controversy” will have to be but on hold until Hernandez comes back.

    • TC

      “I am saying what they are doing isn’t in their best interest.”
      So, you have a better idea of what’s in their best interest than BB and his staff do?

  • bsmfan

    I’ll hit something else because we had to have had, next to the Cowboys being “punked” by the Seahawks, one of the worst regular season losses in this era.

    I know this site hasn’t (with good reason) covered the whole BU Hockey story. The local media seemed to do nothing more than circle the wagons, assume the usual college sports are zZzZz, and get lucky that the national media ignored it. Does it just lack keywords and a certain sex appeal? People could careless about college hockey? I found more BU grads and media trying to make sure the thing was swept under the rug. I also heard a bit of the, “it happens everywhere.” stuff people love to use when it hits home but do the “tisk, tisk, shame on you” when it’s another school.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sakabakbrg Scott Kaplan

    Did anyone else go back and look at the “Ask Nick” columns that were linked above? In the 2nd one, there’s a questions written by “Marc Bertrand from Quincy, MA”. Would that be the same Marc Bertrand of Felger and Mazz fame?

    • DrakeW

      I wonder how much he weighed back then?

      • dan

        I’m sure he was still the size of a whale back then.

  • http://bostonsportsmedia.com/ Bruce Allen

    And George, you can disagree with me under your real name. I’m not offended, you didn’t need to make up “CreasyBear72.”

    • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

      HA!…that didn’t take long. Last week some people were saying how GREAT running the ball was and making comments about how you have to “stick with it” in order to be good at it…one loss and here we go>>>


      But, yesterday over emphasizing running the ball was a contributing factor…’

  • 72problemsandasnitchaint1

    What’s an IP address?

  • APimpNamedDaveR

    As a fan, I’m outraged!!!!! If Welker had started the game, he would have been the one rolling up Hernandez’s leg and completely ruining the game plan, instead of that practice squad scrub Edelman! Instead of some sub-par “high ankle sprain”, an All Pro like Wes would have given Hernandez at least a broken tibia, if not a full-on torn ACL/MCL/major knee reconstruction job! Belichick should be fired for letting FRAUD JAHSH McDaniels run this offense into the ground like this. Now, instead of questioning whether Hernandez will ever recover from a season- and possibly career-ending injury from Welker, we’re left picking up the pieces with a “maybe October” return pending! And what should have been a confused, dispirited 21-3 loss almost turned into a tragic WIN, but for the intervention of a phantom holding call and a shanked FG! Failing to point out this CLEAR AND VISIBLE failure on the part of Belifraud, McDanielfraud, and Kraftfraud shows you’re clearly on the take, Bruce. Even though we don’t attend practices, have no idea what the offensive or defensive gameplans are, and have no inside information as to injury status and/or personnel handling decisions on the part of management, we clearly have more than enough information to make absolutist statements about a season that’s two weeks old! HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THIS, BRUCE????? HAVE THE PATRIOTS PULLED THE WOOL OVER YOUR EYES TOO??????

    I’m going to add SEVERAL exclamation points here to demonstrate how outraged I am!

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    !!

    • DrakeW

      A better more experienced WR wouldn’t have been so close to his own teammate like Endleman was to Hernandez on that play.

      • APimpNamedDaveR

        /satire off

        So a better, more experienced WR wouldn’t be running behind the TE blocking for him downfield? On a quick out “Patriot screen”?

        Really?

        • DrakeW

          He would be running behind him. Just not as close and not at the angle Endleman did, yes.

    • Scott

      I am angrier than you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This makes me a superior fan. There’s a certain something that happens when I post. An electricity, a certain buzz. Ah, I can’t define it. It’s certainly NOT because I’m a drooling, wholly transparent assshole. While that’s been suggested by many, I reject that theory.

  • Siggy

    This year was the Lifetime Achievement Award for Welker…it always was. A $10 million year he wasn’t going to get anywhere else. I think that’s pretty dam good. No strings attached for the Patriots, a chunk o money for Welker.

  • Kingkelly

    A nice hysteria-free foundation for probing the Welker mystery, Bruce — and nice LENGTH, too! (LOL) The two game sample is tiny, especially after the vets hardly played in the exhibitions. It’s so deliciously loco that frothing conspiracy theorists and Wagnerian drama queens are already in full throat. And it’s soooo… Boston. Some of our media dawgs spring into pursuit mode faster than guard Dobermans.
    Happily, there are signs of self-awareness breaking out, too. Minihane has two strong columns on Wes. The first one blew a kiss to the hyperbolic grassy knoll types, with a mockumentary undercurrent that is self-effacing and fairly insightful [http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/football/patriots/kirk-minihane/2012/09/11/bill-belichick-freezing-out-wes-welker]. His latest is a thoughtful, well written reflection on Welker’s unique asset value to the Pats offense and on possible reasons for giving Julian Edelman more snaps than he deserves [http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/football/patriots/kirk-minihane/2012/09/16/patriots-making-mistake-wes-welker]. This measured and much improved Mini even works a line from Churchill into the second piece, seamlessly no less. We are not making this up.

    Now, some of you may experience a rush of blood to the head, thinking it can’t be THAT Minihane. Not weei.com’s negativity maven, the cringe worthy mouthbreather who devoured the Red Sox? Not that blame-crazed verbal assassin, it can’t be THAT Mini? Yes, that Mini. And no, I’m not high (LOL). It’s enough to make a guy believe in redemption, I tell you! Or at least in professional growth.

    • Homer Greens

      “The two game sample is tiny, especially after the vets hardly played in the exhibitions.”

      Wow, you still don’t get it! Can you tie your own shoe laces? There is an actual reason for Welker’s reduced playing time and we will eventually find out about it…

  • latetodinner

    There are two other options here Bruce…although I think your theory that Edelman earned the playing time is probably the best one going.

    1) McDaniels is not nearly as good as advertised. I threw this theory out when he was rehired, I continued it through the preseason and I am going to beat this drum until proven wrong. The play calling yesterday was mystifying. They should not have needed Hernandez to beat Arizona. All they needed to do was make a few first downs. Running on 3rd and 3 with Woodhead on an off tackle cut back play that my wife predicted it was so obvious was just one of many problems. Their instance on throwing outside the numbers which was not productive rather than inside to Gronk, Welker and Edelman which was…especially in the red zones was just stupid. However I think where I was most frustrated came on the closing drive of the first half where they looked to be content with nothing on 1st and 2nd down, then got a lucky third down conversion and then all of a sudden the offense had life…as if the coach in Brady’s ear said…what the hell try to score now.

    2) Welker is injured and we do not know about it.

  • Classless

    I still remained mystified that people and Welker himself (?) think playing for $10 mil a year is a “slap in the face”. He’s set for life (if he isn’t already). He’s a great player, no doubt, but the facts remain he disappeared in Super Bowl 42 and he choked in Super Bowl 46. You can’t debate that.

  • TonyC66

    A couple of quick points: 1–Arizona has now won 9 of its last 11 regular season games dating back to last season. During that stretch they’ve defeated Dallas, Philly, San Francisco and New England, and their defense has allowed just 18 PPG. In othe words, while the Pats’ loss on Sunday was unexpected, it’s not nearly as catastrophic as some make it out to be. Arizona has been steadily improving since the mid-point of the 2011 season, and is now 2-0 this year. They are not a bad team. If they had consistent QB play, they’d be a sure-fire playoff team this season–they still might be given how good their defense is.
    2–The Patriots’ defense has clearly improved. They really only gave up 10 points on Sunday. The blocked punt and Brady’s first quarter INT handed the Cardinals 10 of their 20 points. Kolb’s mobility was the only reason why the Pats didn’t have 4 or 5 sack on Sunday instead of just 1. Also, while they did give up a few runs, the rush defense still held Arizona to a 3.3 average per rush. If the Pats play defense for the rest of the season they way they have in the first two games, they’ll be fine.
    3–None of us really knows why Welker has been getting fewer reps, but here’s a theory: He wasn’t at 100 percent during the pre-season and he hardly played during the pre-season, so they’re trying to ease him back into the offensive flow. It’s possible. It’s also possible that Bruce is correct and they’re trying to transition away from relying so heavily on him. What definitely is NOT true is that Belichick is trying to “spite” Welker over the contract situation. That’s pure agenda-driven media hogwash.
    4–They’d better find a way to fix that offensive line by December, or they’re going to waste what could be a pretty good year from their younger, faster, deeper, more talented defense. Ironic, is it not? For 4 year everyone around here has been screaming about fixing the defense and stop relying so much on the offense. Now they appear to be getting close to having the defense fixed, and suddenly they develop unexpected offensive line issues (unexpected because I don’t think they expected to come into 2012 without LIght or Watersr–one of them, perhaps, but not BOTH).
    5–It’s early. Everyone needs to take a chill pill. The 2005 Steelers, 2007 and 2011 Giants, and 2010 Packers have proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that it’s not HOW you get into the playoffs, but what you do once you get there. This team is still one of the most talented in the NFL and should win 11 games with their eyes closed, minimum.

  • http://twitter.com/BruceNV Bruce Newman

    I wonder if people actually like to watch football. It seems as if they prefer the drama and “storylines” more than the games. This is an historic run that the Pats are on. Amazing that shoepeers cant enjoy it.

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