Free-agent scouting report: Patriots WR Wes Welker

Posted Feb. 19, 2012 @ 1:24 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

This is the second in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.

News: Welker is the Patriots' top priority this offseason and it's evident that both sides want Welker to finish his career in New England. "I think Wes wants to be here and we want him here. Hopefully when the season ends, both sides will be wise enough to consummate something," owner Robert Kraft said after the AFC championship game. "He's pretty special. Any time there is a player on this team I can look eye-to-eye and be at the same level, he's an important guy." Welker is coming off a career year, though his final game wasn't his finest, as he dropped a pass in the Super Bowl that likely would have sealed a Patriots victory. The Patriots have been able to sign Vince Wilfork, Tom Brady and Logan Mankins to long-term deals in the past three years, respectively, with Wilfork and Mankins getting their deals after receiving the franchise tag. The tag for wide receivers is expected to be around $9.4 million. All signs point to Welker remaining in New England, where he is most valuable.

Notes: An eight-year veteran, Welker led the NFL with 122 catches last season, adding career highs with 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. In his five seasons with New England, he has totaled more than 100 catches and 1,100 yards every season but 2010, when he was coming off surgery on a torn ACL and MCL suffered at the end of the '09 season. Welker turns 31 years old on May 1.

Positives: An excellent route runner with great hands, Welker is perfect for Brady and the Patriots' offense. No matter who covers him, he is able to get off the line quickly, get open and gain yards after the catch. For the Patriots, Welker knows the offense well and is always in sync with Brady. For another team, Welker provides an adept slot receiver who is not afraid to go across the middle and take a hit.

Negatives: Welker is reaching the last half of his career. He plays his position in a way that makes him prone to big hits, and while he is extremely tough, he puts himself in position to get hurt. Away from the Patriots' system, Welker has lesser value.

Risk factor: Low-to-moderate. Welker is a very low-risk re-signing for the Patriots, though it's unlikely the organization wants to completely break the bank to keep him, knowing that it has the leverage. For another team, Welker presents a moderate risk because his play might not translate as well in a different system. However, it would be a shock if he went on the open market.