Despite all of the rhetoric from the Patriots front office going into this free agency period, it certainly seemed like the gap between the two would not be bridged, thus ending his six-year tenure with the team. Despite the thoughts that Welker was done as a Patriots player, there was a surprising amount of anger given his departure, especially since his deal with Denver seemed to be at a number the Patriots could have managed. In the end, the fact of the matter was that the team had moved on from a 31 year old receiver and were looking at a way to upgrade the position, however difficult it may have been in the eyes of their fans.
The problems with the Patriots offense since their 2007 makeover have been well documented, after all, you could just do a find and replace in columns of the early decade Colts and how they struggled in the playoffs. The quick, speedy receivers of the Patriots had lead the team to high-flying victories in the regular season before somehow always managing to fall short at the key times in the playoffs when confronted with a physical defense. Take a look at the Giants in 2007 and 2011, the Ravens in 2009 and 2012 and the Jets in 2010, in all five of those occasions, the defensive gameplan was essentially the same. Hit the receivers at the line of scrimmage and outmuscle the little guys so that Brady could not get his passes off. Each team had their own little spin in on it, the Giants used that scheme to get to Brady and belt the crap out of him, the Jets clogged the middle of the field and the Ravens just figured the officials wouldn’t call unnecessary roughness on every play. Either way, a change had to be made to try and address the deficiencies in the offense.
With the two tight ends locked up long term, the evolution of the offense needed to come in the form of a wide receiver. Personally, it felt like the Patriots were going to drastically reduce the role of the slot and bring in an outside receiver to team with Brandon Lloyd to try and spread the defense out. Either a speed burner who was a legitimate home-run threat on every play like Johnny Knox (except someone who hadn’t retired) or a big, physical receiver like Anquan Boldin who had hit the ultimate hot streak in the postseason. Either type of receiver would provide a threat outside the middle of the field and further than 10 yards away. Either way, the system would likely be changed to a more traditional two-receiver base set.
Of course what eventuated just hours after the Welker news broke changed that theory about the Patriots offense evolving. Danny Amendola, long proclaimed to be Wes Welker 2.0, was signed to presumably fill the slot role that had been vacated. While Amendola has the skill set to play both inside and out, his primary role will likely be very similar to what Welker was doing last year (health permitting) even if his numbers are less than what Welker was producing. As it stands, fellow new signing Donald Jones will be the other starter however the Patriots are not finished with their free agent shopping at that position.
While the decision to move on from Wes Welker may have lead some to think the organization would be on the verge of a philosophical change in their offense, it appears that the offense may not be evolving off in some wild and crazy direction as some had projected. The fact Welker was not retained simply means that they deemed a thirty-something receiver was not worth the money that he wanted. Amendola coming in means you are getting a player who is sure handed, a bit faster however the tradeoff is that he is possibly not as durable. It may seem like a cop-out to suggest this but in the past, Bill Belichick has been right more often than not when it comes to judging the time to cut ties with a player.