Many pundits spent Wednesday evening detailing the size of the mistake the New England Patriots made by letting wide receiver Wes Welker walk away to the Denver Broncos in free agency.
The theme of most of the criticism was that Tom Brady and Welker were a unique team, that former St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola—signed later Wednesday after Welker’s deal with Denver was announced—will be nowhere near as productive as Welker was and that Brady, after agreeing to restructure his contract as part of an extension he signed last month, has somehow been betrayed by letting Welker get away.
I’m not going to deny Welker has been productive—in six years in New England, he became the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions with 672—but let’s not act as if Bill Belichick somehow let Jerry Rice in his prime walk away.
Welker had been unhappy with his contract situation in New England for a long time. He played last season for $9.3 million under the franchise tag and the two-year, $10 million offer the Patriots reportedly (per the Boston Globe) extended to Welker was enough for him to decide that two years and $12 million to catch balls from Peyton Manning was a better deal.
In Amendola, the Patriots get a player who is four years younger, albeit a player whose career high in receptions is 85 and one who missed 20 games the last two seasons due to injuries.
There was widespread bashing of “The Patriot Way,” the method by which Belichick assembles his roster year after year.
The most difficult thing to do in the National Football League is to sustain success. Consider that the opposite side of the parity coin; if teams are going to be able to pull off these monumental turnarounds in the span of a single season, the equal and opposite reaction has to also be true.
That means for every meteoric rise by one team, there is often an equally devastating plummet by another.
Yet somehow, New England has avoided that.
The last time the Patriots lost more games than they won was in 2000, Belichick’s first year with the franchise. The last time the Patriots didn’t win at least 10 games was 2002, when they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker behind the New York Jets in the AFC East race and the Cleveland Browns in the wild-card hunt.
Belichick is 151-57 in his 13 years in New England, with another 17 wins in the postseason, including three Super Bowl titles.
Critics point out that the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, but they’ve been in the hunt every single year.
That includes 2008 when Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener and New England still managed to cobble together a 10-6 record behind lifelong backup Matt Cassel, who at that time hadn’t started a game since he was in high school.
Belichick has let other productive players go—Deion Branch was a Super Bowl MVP as a Patriot and basically a bust as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks. Richard Seymour hasn’t exactly lit the world afire with the Oakland Raiders.
Look, I’m not a fan of the Patriots by any stretch. But Belichick’s system works.
I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt on Welker.