ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Spurning Tom Brady for Peyton Manning had nothing to do with the cash, catches or cachet.
Wes Welker just wanted to play in Denver’s star-studded offense and continue his quest for a Super Bowl ring in the Rockies.
So he traded Picasso for Michelangelo. Or maybe it was the other way around.
Welker is loath to compare the two premiere passers of his generation, suggesting that’s like asking an art aficionado to choose between the greatest.
What the Broncos had to offer was the chance to play with two rising young receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
They combined for almost 2,500 yards and two dozen touchdowns in 2012, so Welker figured there was no way he’d post the kind of numbers in Denver he did in New England, where he averaged an NFL-best 112 catches over the last six seasons.
Welker is on pace for 104 receptions and already has matched his touchdown total from last season with six, putting him on pace to challenge Randy Moss’ record of 23 set in 2007, when Brady threw for an NFL-record 50 TDs.
Manning is on a 64-TD pace and Welker has a lot to do with that, even when he’s not spiking the ball in the end zone.
By commanding so much attention in the slot, he’s freeing Thomas and Decker for more one-on-one opportunities and both have exploited mismatches.
Throw in tight end Julius Thomas, and Denver’s “Fearsome Foursome” has 97 catches for 1,236 yards and 15 touchdowns.
No wonder Broncos boss John Elway said in the summer that he was “truly jealous of the weapons that Peyton gets to throw to.”
Any quarterback would relish this group of hard-working route-runners who stay on point every snap because they know if they can get open, the ball probably will hit them between the numbers.
Welker has proven especially effective in the red zone, weaving his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame free for TDs with everyone eyeing Manning’s bigger pass-catchers, who average 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds.
“Well, he’s extremely difficult to cover,” Manning said. “We get the screens to him, we’ve got the quick stuff to him. We put him in the backfield (Sunday). That was something we haven’t shown before. It’s a credit to him that he has that type of versatility. You can do different things with him.”
Welker hasn’t just made the Broncos’ offense run smoother, but he’s burnished the Broncos’ defense as well.
Coach John Fox said his defense was even more enthusiastic than his offensive players when Welker chose Denver’s two-year, $12 million deal over New England’s $10 million offer “because we don’t have to cover him anymore except in practice.”
Cornerback Chris Harris was especially excited.
He’d had enough tussles with Welker to know this was going to be a good thing for both of them.
“You’re seeing what he’s doing to the slot corners,” Harris said. “And I’m going out there, not even getting thrown at. So it kind of works both ways.”
It’s rare for one player to make such a big difference on both sides of the ball, but Welker isn’t one to relish his impact mid-stream.
“It doesn’t just happen overnight,” Welker said. “You almost have to mess it up on the field first and come back and talk about it and get it right the next time.”