FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 9: Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots watches from the sidelines during a preseason game against the Orleans Saints in the first half at Gillette Stadium on August 9, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The Wes Welker saga continues in New England. After scant playing time in the season opener against the Titans, and slightly more than that last week versus the Cardinals (although he didn't start), the rumor mill is again churning.
“I really wasn't positive even leading up to the first series,” Welker said during a radio appearance on WEEI about whether he'd be on the field for the first series. “I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I just go out there whenever my number is called and I go out and play.”
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said last week that Welker's role -- like the other skill position players -- is a function of the opponent, their scheme and personnel. That explanation isn't enough for some people and they remained confused (and understandably; in six seasons with the Pats, Welker has 562 receptions).
CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman asked a Patriots official about Welker and in Freeman's words the response was "almost indignant, even angry."
"All of this about Wes just isn't true," the official told Freeman. "He isn't being phased out. He isn't being phased out. He's not being punished. All of this speculation is just wrong. It's flat-out wrong." The official added: "Think about how obvious it would be to phase out Wes Welker."
Maybe this is true but the Boston Globe's Greg Bedard wrote this hours after the Pats lost to the Cardinals:
And the most irrefutable evidence about the Patriots’ plans for Welker came in the '12' personnel of one back, two tight ends and two receivers. As long as Gronkowski and Hernandez are healthy, this is the Patriots’ base personnel grouping.
"The Patriots played 15 snaps of '12' personnel. Edelman played 13 of them as the No. 2 receiver. Welker played two. It used to be the other way around. The four other plays Edelman came off the field for had two-back, two-tight end sets.
"If Hernandez was not injured, you really have to wonder how much Welker would have played in the game. He clearly was not part of the game plan going in."
Freeman's take: while the Pats might not be phasing Welker out, they could be trying to trade him. Several league sources agreed that it's a remote possibility, and the flip-flop in playing time for Welker and Edelman might be to see if the latter can handle the role.
Wherever the truth lies, this much is certain: Bill Belichick has made a handsome living off being a pretty good talent evaluator. It sounds, well, crazy to suggest that Welker isn't the player he once was -- especially months after the team just signed him to his $9 million and change franchise tender -- but if Belichick thinks moving Welker is in the best interest of the team, he'll do it. And we're guessing there will be teams lining up to deal.