Wes Welker Must Stay in New England for Patriots to Remain Long-Term Contenders

John RozumCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2013

New England needs Wes Welker so the offense can remain high-powered.
New England needs Wes Welker so the offense can remain high-powered.Winslow Townson/Getty Images

It appears that Wes Welker may be retained by the New England Patriots.

First, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

Secondly, per Tom E. Curran of Comcast SportsNet New England:

The most likely candidates for the tag appear to be either right tackle Sebastian Vollmer or cornerback Aqib Talib.

Wide receiver Wes Welker is also a possibility, but progress has been made on getting a new deal for Welker. Also, tagging him will cost about $11.5 million because he was tagged in 2012.

Welker is easily the most consistently productive and reliable receiving target for Tom Brady.

And his ability to siphon defenses at the intermediate level, accumulate yards after the catch and defeat man coverage is undeniably impressive. His impact has played a key role in the emergence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

But whenever one or both of these playmakers were out, Welker still produced at a high level.

Ranking No. 8 with 1,354 receiving yards in 2012, Welker also ranked inside the top 10 for receptions (118), yards after the catch (619) and first downs (72). In addition, Welker was targeted 174 times, which means Brady's completion percentage when tossing the rock his direction was 67.8 percent.

Few receiving targets in today's NFL are capable of equaling this level of dependability.

In short, the high success rate of New England's red-zone offense, which scored a touchdown 67.5 percent of the time, is not surprising (ranked No. 3).

The guy provides a distinct competitive advantage, because he opens up the playbook for the rest of the Pats offense. Whether it's a quick slant, out or receiver screen, Brady can find Welker everywhere underneath.

Possessing the quickness and acceleration to split zones and win against man-to-man, Welker is also a deep threat. So, he widens and stretches opponents to force defenses in coverage mismatches. Plus when Brady is blitzed, Welker's instincts to recognize pre-snap and adjust mid-route helps capitalize on anything immediately exposed.

Factor in his yards after the catch, and this is a primary reason why New England's offense is so efficient. Include Welker's efforts to run block when needed and this keeps the Pats balanced as well. After all, New England did rank No. 7 in rushing offense last season and averaging 4.2 yards per carry in 2012 doesn't solely happen without receivers helping downfield.

Given that pro football is a pass-oriented and scoring league, though, and the Pats need Welker to remain AFC Super Bowl contenders.