In one of the more stunning free agent signings in recent years, Wes Welker has agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos.
Unable to reach a deal with New England after playing the 2012 season under the franchise tag, Welker chose to leave the Patriots and end his longstanding and productive relationship with quarterback Tom Brady to sign with the Broncos, where he will join Peyton Manning.
In an era of ever-churning news cycles, Welker’s decision to leave New England for Denver will be debated for a long time, particularly given that he agreed to a modest deal (reportedly two years and $12 million) shortly after Brady signed a below-market extension that granted the Patriots an abundance of salary cap space.
Brady’s reaction to the deal will be almost as interesting as watching Welker on the field in Denver with Manning.
Regarded as the league’s premier slot receiver, Welker recorded 672 receptions during his six-year stint in New England, endearing himself to the team’s fan base with his solid production and toughness. He missed just three games due to injury despite suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the final game of the 2009 season.
Last season, Welker caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns.
Well, the widespread assumption was that if Welker left the Patriots, he would be hard pressed to match his production in New England with his new team. However, if there is a quarterback that can keep Welker relevant, it is Manning.
If a 36-year-old Brandon Stokley can catch 45 passes playing out of the slot with Manning, Welker has a solid chance to surpass 100 receptions for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.
In Denver, Welker joins a pair of 1000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but there is little reason to suggest he can’t top 100 receptions and 1,000 yards with the Broncos. Throw in another six- or seven-touchdown season and Welker will once again rate as a high-end WR2 in 2013.
With Welker owning the slot, the team’s tight ends will almost certainly become persona non grata in the Broncos passing attack. Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen are once again expected to share that role, so neither will be worth owning for fantasy purposes.
Thomas and Decker both had outstanding seasons in 2012, and Welker’s signing shouldn’t have a major impact on their production as both players enter their fourth season in the league.
Of the two, Thomas has the most upside, having accumulated 1,442 receiving yards and ten touchdowns last season. He has the potential to become a top three fantasy WR in 2013.
Decker was the seventh-ranked fantasy WR in 2012, with 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns. But since such a large portion of his production came from touchdowns, another top 10 fantasy season seems unlikely. Decker still shapes up as a mid-tier WR2 next season, however.
As for Manning, he moves from being a mid-tier QB1 to an upper-tier option, given the plethora of outstanding talent the team now possesses at receiver.
In New England, Brady will be left to lament the loss of his security blanket, as will his fantasy owners. Although reports indicate that the Patriots have signed former Ram Danny Amendola to replace Welker, he is little more than a poor man’s version—and an injury-prone one at that.
With Welker’s departure, Brady becomes a riskier fantasy option, though he remains an upper-tier fantasy QB for 2013.