Wes Welker returned to Patriots facilities last week in hopes of reigniting long term contract negotiations with the team. This move was met by the Patriots lowering their initial offer to Welker. What would cause the team to move in this direction? A look back on some of the deals signed by wide receivers over the age of 30 and coached by Bill Belichick could shed a little light on the Patriots methods. New England based NFL.com writer Ian Rapoport explains:
What’s not clear is how far apart the two sides are. What is clear is that the Patriots are proceeding with caution when it comes to guaranteeing future money for a 31-year-old receiver who has more catches than any other player in the NFL since he arrived in New England in 2007.
When Belichick was with the Jets as an assistant from 1997 to 1999, Chrebet was an unlikely star. An undrafted player from Hofstra, he milked everything he could out of his 5-foot-10, 188-pound frame. In seven of his first eight seasons, Chrebet played in at least 15 games, catching at least 51 balls each year for more than 690 yards. But it all changed when he turned 30.
Limited by injuries — most notably concussions — Chrebet fell off the NFL map. The slide began with a 27-catch injury-plagued season in 2003, and then he managed just 31 for 397 yards in 2004, despite playing all 16 games. By 2005, at age 32, it was nearly over. Chrebet had just 15 catches for 153 yards in eight games before hanging up his cleats. With 580 catches, many over the middle, the hits collected and seemed to wear his diminutive body down.
It was similar for Brown, the 5-foot-10, 196-pound do-everything sparkplug who emerged from the scrapheap to become quarterback Tom Brady’s go-to weapon during the Patriots’ dynasty years. At his best, from 2000 to 2002, Brown averaged 94 catches for 1,011 yards and four scores. In 2002, he played at 31 years old (Welker’s current age).
What happened afterward might be what the Patriots are afraid of. Over the final five years of his career, Brown never eclipsed 45 catches or 475 yards in a season. In 2004, two years after catching 97 passes for 890 yards, Brown hauled in 17 balls for a mere 184 receiving yards, showing just how quickly it can all slow down (though he did spend quite a bit of time on defense that year).
Clearly, the Patriots are using history as a caution flag when it comes to locking in a deal with Welker. Although it can be viewed that assuming a player’s production will drop off severely is unfair, the Patriots must protect themselves against that possibility. I’m sure the Patriots and Welker will come to some sort of an agreement, but not at whatever amount Welker’s asking price is.