Because Wes Welker finished with 1,354 yards last season, his odd early-season freeze-out by Bill Belichick is largely forgotten.
In the first two weeks of last season, Welker was a non-factor. He caught three passes for 14 yards in the opener, and in Week 2 he didn't start and got fewer snaps than Julian Edelman early on. It was weird. For some reason Belichick decided he'd rather the Patriots' offense suffer without Welker than use one of his best players. Then Aaron Hernandez got hurt in Week 2, the Patriots had to use Welker, and all bygones seemed to be bygones.
At least now that Welker has opened up to Sports Illustrated, we know we weren't just imagining that something was amiss early in the season. Welker admitted that his relationship with Belichick deteriorated during his final New England season.
The SI story said Belichick got on Welker more than he had in the past, admonishing him in front of the team during his final season there.
“It was just kind of hard,” Welker said to SI, “one of those deals where you have to endure him, put up with him. . . .But he does it to everybody, it’s the way he is.”
Then in the offseason the Patriots low-balled the greatest slot receiver ever, offering him two years and $10 million with more to be made through incentives. The Broncos signed Welker for a still cheap $12 million over two years, while the Patriots gave brittle Danny Amendola and his anemic 8.8-yard career average a five-year, $31 million deal. The Patriots could have easily had Welker back – Welker said he decided before free agency he wanted to stay in New England or go to Denver – but made a rather insulting offer they had to know Welker would not take.
Maybe Belichick didn't like how Welker handled being stuck with the franchise tag last year. Perhaps he lost trust in Welker after a monumental drop in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Maybe he just figured Welker, 32, was nearing the end of his career and it was nothing personal at all. Perhaps Welker bristled against the paranoid nature of the Patriots and that played a part.
“When I’m answering questions from the Denver media, I’m not worried about what the Broncos’ people are going to think,” Welker told SI. “I’m worried about what Belichick will think. Isn’t that crazy?”
Whatever really happened to cut the relationship between Belichick and Welker short probably will never be known. All we know is that it led to Tom Brady losing one of his best targets, and Peyton Manning gaining one of the most reliable third-down receivers of his generation.
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