Losing star wideout Welker sends mixed messages

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 12:51 a.m.

Losing Wes Welker is one thing. But seeing the trusted slot receiver defect for the Broncos, only to improve Peyton Manning's chances of winning another Super Bowl ring, might be enough to make Tom Brady wonder.

Brady restructured his contract recently, allowing the Patriots a few more million in salary cap room. It seemed like a good deal for both sides. The Patriots got cap room, the GQ quarterback netted extra cash and major guarantees.

All that, and Welker winds up with Manning?

Guess Welker, after the last of his six seasons with the Patriots seemed to include the undercurrent of a rift with coach Bill Belichick, really knows how to strike back. The two-year deal that Welker got from the Broncos, worth $12 million, didn't come until talks broke down with the Patriots. New England's offer of $5 million per season was apparently taken as an insult by a player who caught more passes than any player in the NFL (672) during his Patriots tenure. New England's response? Sign a younger Danny Amendola away from the St. Louis Rams, reunite him with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on a five-year, $31 million deal that guarantees $10 million, according to figures obtained by USA Today.

Amendola's deal, which came down a couple hours after Welker's deal, averages $6.2 million per year — $200,000 more on average than Welker's contract and in total a whole lot more than New England offered Welker.

The Patriots can send messages of their own, too. In this case, it's “Good riddance, Wes. We'll be fine.” History is on their side. Brady has seen a lot of targets come and go. He's won with Welker, and he's won with Troy Brown and David Givens.

And now he still has Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Welker was the ultimate blitz-beater, typically the security blanket crossing over the middle when things got tight. He usually was money in the bank.

For the here and now, Welker's departure appears to be a much bigger win for the Broncos and their solid, aggressive architect John Elway, than it is a loss for the Patriots. Manning and Brady are the best quarterbacks of their generation, but Brady's got the upper hand with those three championship rings. That's add fuel for Manning, who wants to win bad enough for himself but once again is in the midst of an offseason that began with another playoff defeat.

With Welker's move, the power in the AFC might not have shifted — Denver, which had the AFC's best record last season, already looked to be the team to beat — but rather solidified.

That Denver wanted to secure Welker for just two years says something else. It's a win-now move. No surprise about that mindset. In fact, that's how both Elway and his soon-to-be 37-year-old quarterback described their mission last March when they joined forces. Adding Welker to the mix thickens the plot. Belichick might have suspected, but couldn't know for sure, that the Broncos would snap up Welker in a heartbeat. Regardless, that was a risk he was willing to take. Brady will understand — or just deal with it.

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