One of the theories floating around out there about Wes Welker is that the Pats are simply trying to preserve a valuable asset and make sure he’s still deadly for the playoffs. I’m not sure even a overly-optimistic homer like myself believes that’s the case but let’s take a look at why it might make sense.
The first question that must be analyzed is why is Julian Edelman playing in 2-WR sets over Welker? There have been reports that Edelman outplayed Welker in training camp, so why not find out once and for all, if given the chance, can Edelman be a legitimate Z-WR in the Patriots offense. With Welker likely gone next year finding out if Edelman can take over for him now is in the long-term interest of the team.
There’s no question Tom Brady has been over-reliant on Welker at times over the past few years, and the quick decline of slot receivers like TJ Houshmanzadeh and Wayne Chrebet has been well documented. If Welker is on board with it there’s no question cutting his snaps a bit early in the year could pay dividends down the road.
However this goes directly against what we’ve come to know about Bill Belichick. Risk of injury rarely ever plays into his thinking. Could this signify a change in Belichick’s thinking?
With or without Welker on the field the Pats were planning on being a two tight end team. Could this also be a sign of them wanting to move more towards a power game than a move-quick spread one? An evolution that could possibly relegate Welker back to a simple “slot receiver”?
The book on the Pats offense with Welker, Gronk and Hernando as the center pieces is out, and we saw a game plan from the Cardinals from that book: Man coverage, flood the middle of the field. But by holding back on Welker it takes away arguably the biggest key for that version of the Pats offense. It also forces Tom Brady out of his Welker comfort zone and to adjust to some new weapons like Edelman and Brandon Lloyd.
It’s hard to fully believe the Pats are holding back on Welker to save him for the end of the season. There are some undoubted benefits in the long-term for the Patriots by doing so, but it seems very much out of the ordinary from what we know about Belichick. Usually “the best players play” and he throws caution to the wind when it comes to injuries.
What bears more research is how much Welker has declined over the course of the past few seasons? We know some obvious plays that he didn’t make, but what about his overall explosion? Or better yet, just how dinged up has he been in January and February? We’ll probably never know that for sure.
Regardless this is an interesting development for the Patriots and one that we’ll probably have to close the book on until Aaron Hernandez is healthy again. Whenever that may be…