Thursday, December 5, 2013
By Bill Burt / The (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots officially have the White Elephant in the room. Again.
The Associated Press
Wes Welker's playing time. It has trumped everything right now.
The irony is that there's so much to discuss about these Patriots, just two weeks into this strange NFL season – 20 of the 32 teams are 1-1.
All of these things: the painstaking loss; the pathetic 2-point conversion attempt to tie the game; the big forced fumble by Brandon Spikes; Tom Brady's skittish behavior in the pocket; Brady's failure to connect on a pass longer than 40 yards; Rob Gronkowski's mediocre performance thus far; the boring and quiet Gillette Stadium crowd; Brandon Lloyd's ho-hum two games; the tough schedule the next three weeks (at Baltimore, at Buffalo and vs. Denver); Bill Belichick's dedication to running the football etc., etc.
There's so much to digest and talk about. But Welker is, like it or not, the story around here.
Of course he's helped fan the flames. He appears to be sad, confused and his sulking-to-smiling ratio is about 5-to-1. Rather than hiding in the trainer's room, he's answering the questions, "Of course, you want to play more "
Belichick and the Patriots have dealt with these white elephant-like distractions before, oftentimes admirably.
In 2001, it was Terry Glenn's suspension and Drew Bledsoe's benching. In 2002 it was Bledsoe's exodus and Super Bowl hangover.
In 2003, it was Lawyer Milloy's trade. In 2005 it was Ty Law calling Belichick a liar. In 2006 it was the Patriots' Three Stooges-like receiving corps. In 2007 it was Spygate. In 2008 it was Brady's injury in the opener. In 2009 it was Belichick's buddy Scott Pioli leaving for Kansas City and so on.
In other words, some form of drama has been the rule during this incredible Patriots run rather than the exception.
But this is an unlikely subject. Welker is every bit a Patriot as Troy Brown, who was honored this weekend. While Welker doesn't have the years Brown had, he has the quality.
Welker has been a Belichick disciple. He's dull as door nails when it comes to information. And his monotone is every bit as impressive as Belichick's.
Contract problems with very good Patriots players have surfaced throughout Belichick's tenure. Milloy, Law, Deion Branch, Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins all have gone through contentious negotiations with Belichick.
Only Wilfork and Mankins survived their contract tussles and remained full-fledged Patriots (Branch returned five years later).
But Welker could be considered on a different plane. First off, chicks dig him. But a lot of guys do, too. All you have to do is look at the number of No. 83 jerseys at Gillette Stadium on Sundays. Trust me, he rivals Brady in this department.
The point is this is drama the Patriots don't need. It's an easy story for columnists and beat reporters. When Welker is playing behind Julian Edelman, who is at best a shell of Welker, you know something isn't right.
Welker could help out here, too. He's making $9.5 million this year, guaranteed. And as long as he remains healthy, there's probably another $15 million guaranteed over two years coming from some NFL team next year.
My guess is the Patriots will lean on Welker more to his liking in the near future. But he also has to understand the Patriots have really good options on offense, better than last year and better than they've had since he's been here in 2007.
But Belichick has to help stop the madness. Quite frankly, next year doesn't matter right now. Worrying about next year has maybe played a small role in the fact that they haven't won a Lombardi Trophy since the 2004 season.