Free agency is a gamble, both for the team signing a player and for the team letting that player walk.
It looked like the Patriots might still keep that from happening if they were able to get a long-term deal done with wide receiver Wes Welker, but according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, though, Welker will test the open market.
On the open market, Welker may find a team that's willing to pay more, but in the end, he'll probably learn two things he, the Patriots and everyone else already knows:
- He needs the Patriots, and the Patriots need Welker.
- The money, combined with the environment in New England presents the best-case scenario for the next few years for Welker.
Just look at this list.
There certainly isn't a shortage of teams with the cap space to go after Welker, but do any of them present the balance of a good fit, a competitive team and the ability to offer a good contract?
What's more, according to a report from ESPN's Ed Werder, Welker could return after he finds the open market to be less welcoming than he thinks.
What are the realistic options, though?
The Colts and Dolphins both have the money, but neither has a particular need for a receiver with Welker's very specific skill set. The Jaguars also have the money, but they have invested a lot of resources into the wide receiver position of late with first-round pick Justin Blackmon and free-agent pickup Laurent Robinson. The Bengals also have a lot of money, but are loaded with talent at wide receiver with the likes of A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.
The Browns, Buccaneers, Falcons and Eagles all have the money and could all use a receiver like Welker who can get open in the short to intermediate area and create yards after the catch, but for different reasons, none are quite as attractive as the Patriots.
The Browns are rebuilding once again with a new coaching staff and a shaky quarterback situation. The same goes for the Eagles, although their quarterback and coaching situations are a little less shaky than Cleveland's.
The Buccaneers have some of the weapons in place, but Josh Freeman's development to this point has been erratic, and the Buccaneers are in a top-heavy division.
Speaking of the NFC South, the Falcons would provide a reasonable fit if Tony Gonzalez opts for retirement, but Welker would be the No. 3 receiver in that offense. That also wouldn't help the Falcons address the loss of their future Hall of Fame tight end.
Those are the only two teams that really make sense, but neither is as attractive as New England.
Sure, Welker may be a little "paranoid" about his role with the Patriots, as Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports put it, given the health of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but there's more for him to consider:
Does he go for a contract that's worth every possible dollar with a team that is likely not the Patriots? Or does he go for a contract with New England that likely earns him most of the money and increases his chances of creating a legacy?
[...] The temptation to max out every dollar in this contract is obvious. Against that temptation, Welker needs to consider what his legacy is worth. Three more years of catching passes from Brady could get him to well over 1,000 receptions in his career, perhaps even up over 1,100 (Welker had 768 already). A Super Bowl ring would help solidify his status as a hero in Boston, one of those guys who eventually make money just being who he is.
Think of Jerry Remy, a Boston Red Sox legend who played during the team's 86-year World Series drought. He didn't deliver a championship to his team, but he created a legacy and is still cashing in on it with a downtown restaurant and as a broadcast announcer on NESN.
Never mind that Welker's name fits in perfectly with the Boston accent (Welkah!), or mind it if you like, but either way, Welker should find that he also fits in perfectly with the Patriots—or at least more perfectly than with any other team in the NFL.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.