Tom Brady described Wes Welker as the "heart and soul" of the New England Patriots -- and now, New England's heart and soul is headed to Denver. The Denver Broncos signed Welker to a two-year deal on Wednesday. The move transforms Denver into one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
Agreed to terms on a 2-yr deal with Wes Welker. Excited to have Wes join the Broncos. His production & toughness will be a great asset!— John Elway (@johnelway) March 13, 2013
Adam Schefter of ESPN later reported that the deal was worth $12 million.
Peyton Manning is now surrounded by three extremely talented wide receivers, with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside. Welker will replace Brandon Stokley in the slot, forming perhaps the best wide receiver trio in the NFL.
Denver boasted the league's fifth-best passing attack in 2012, averaging 283.4 yards-per-game in Manning's first year with the Broncos. The Broncos struggled out of the gate, starting 2-3, but then rattled off 11 consecutive wins en route to the AFC's top seed in the playoffs. Manning finished the season second in MVP voting, throwing for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns, while completing 68.6 percent of his passes, in his first season back after missing 2011 because of neck injuries.
With a season in Denver under his belt, there's no reason to think that Manning will regress in 2013. Now with Welker added to his arsenal, Manning is poised to be even better going forward, which is bad news for the rest of the AFC.
Stokley, Denver's slot receiver in 2012, appeared in 15 games, catching 45 passes for 544 yards, while scoring five touchdowns. Welker's production was more than double Stokley's last season, as Brady's most targeted receiver finished the season with 118 receptions, 1,354 yards and six touchdowns.
Needless to say, Welker is a massive upgrade over Stokley -- who will turn 37 later this year.
Welker's departure from New England leaves a serious void in Bill Belichick's offense. Welker averaged 154.1 targets per season in his six years with the Patriots. Since coming over from Miami, he firmly entrenched himself as Brady's favorite receiver. The Patriots don't have a receiver under contract currently to take Welker's place, but could opt to pursue Danny Amendola, who has worked with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during his 2011 stint as the offensive coordinator in St. Louis.
The Patriots are left with Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Ebert, Andre Holmes, Brandon Lloyd and Matthew Slater as wide receivers on the active roster, and it's believed that New England will cut ties with Lloyd by the end of March. Belichick will once again need to completely revamp his team's wide receiving corps, as he did in 2006 and 2007.
In 2007, the Patriots brought in Welker, Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth, and rewrote the league's history book, en route to a perfect 16-0 regular season, before faltering in the final two minutes of the Super Bowl, and eventually losing to the New York Giants.
Unfortunately for the Patriots and Patriots fans, players of Moss' and Welker's caliber aren't currently on the market.
It's not all doom and gloom for the Patriots headed into 2013, as they'll still return Pro Bowl caliber tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, along with talented young running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Belichick, however, will have to rebuild the wide receiving corps -- again -- and with Percy Harvin and Mike Wallace off the table, he'll have to settle for second-tier weapons this time around.
It's far too early to say if the Patriots made the right or wrong decision by letting Welker leave, but two things are clear -- Welker turns the Broncos into the AFC favorites, and Welker's departure leaves the Patriots with a gaping hole on offense.
As for the Broncos, the addition of Welker adds a new chapter to the Brady-Manning rivalry. More importantly, it sets Denver up as an early favorite as the AFC Champions and very real shot at a Super Bowl win.