Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Price of Everything, the Value of a Wide Receiver

Start by defining fair comment on the NFL future. If Wes Welker gets concussed in the first exhibition game for the Denver Broncos and misses 18 of the 32 games he's being paid $12 million for, which could surely happen, that wouldn't mean the Patriots were right to let him go. There are other factors to consider.

Nor if Welker catches his average 112 balls and the Broncos win the Super Bowl would it mean the Patriots were wrong to be outbid for the relatively trifling sum of $2 million. Again, there are other factors, mostly the factor that there's a statute of limitations on second-guessing. It's OK tonight to say whether or not the Pats should've ponied up to keep Welker. Next December, it'd be ridiculous.

ALL NFL personnel decisions are made with the knowledge injury could render them foolish. Otherwise, nobody could make any personnel decisions at all. EVERY time a team lets a productive player go it's aware the choice could bite them in the ass. Otherwise, no players would ever leave (or join) an NFL roster.

What's left is the parameter of fair comment. We assume Welker will be roughly as productive in 2013 as he was in 2012. It sure won't be the quarterback's fault if he isn't. (What a QB snob Welker is! First Tom Brady, now Peyton Manning). We also assume that the New England Patriots, a franchise with an almost unparalleled record of success, had a reason, likely a good reason, to lose the low intensity bidding war for Welker's services.

Within those parameters, I just can't find a reason the Pats might've had that makes sense to me. There's no rationale for them saying "Wes, you're done to the tune that we think you're worth $1 million less a year than Denver does." Done is done. Why bother to bid in an auction you want to lose?

I can't even find a reason why the Pats might think Welker is bound to deteriorate dramatically in 2013-2014 except the calendar. There's no indication in past performance it'll happen. Yeah, it'll happen someday. We all die, and athletes all deteriorate. But there's usually more evidence before the latter happens than Welker has provided.

I will also accord the Patriots the minimal respect of believing they don't actually think Danny Amendola will be a better player than Welker next season. One thing about Plan Bs. The letter grade is usually quite accurate.

(PS: I stand corrected.)

No, try as I might, what I come up with as rationales for New England's failure to re-sign Welker (and failure it is) are irrationales. This non-choice only makes sense if it reflects the blind belief of accomplished men in their own system, a self-confidence in methodology that's the antithesis of the scientific method. We're the Patriots. We can replace anybody. Always get younger, faster. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. In fact, the way we play it, past performance is all you've got to give before we have to pay you.

All football players get replaced. Some replacements don't measure up. The better the player, the fewer do. It's going to be difficult indeed for New England to replace Welker, not without paying just as much as it would've taken to keep him.

Deep down, I think Bob Kraft, as shrewd a judge of money and people as has ever run an NFL franchise, has succumbed to that franchise's own legend. He honestly believes Bill Belichick and Brady are magic. The rest of the team is straw they spin into gold. You shouldn't have to pay straw very much.

The Pats have won gold aplenty with this strategy. They've had wins aplenty, too. But they haven't quite been as successful as they've wished or expected.

The record for which the franchise used to mock the Colts is now its identity.


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