The Broncos yesterday signed free agents WR Wes Welker and DT Terrance Knighton, making the organization "seem serious in their attempt to move from regular-season champs to Super Bowl participants," according to Mike Klis of the DENVER POST. Welker and Knighton received two-year deals, and the Broncos yesterday also "agreed to terms with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one-year, $5 million deal." Welker "received $12 million in his two-year package, and Knighton got $4.5 million." Free agency, which started on Tuesday, already has "pulled $63.5 million from owner Pat Bowlen's checking account." Klis: "So much for resting on their 13-3, No. 1 AFC seed laurels." Broncos Exec VP/Football Operations John Elway said, "We wanted to get better." Although Welker is "a big enough star to stir excitement among the Broncos' fan base, it's fair to question whether the team spent good money on a luxury rather than necessity." But Elway said, "You can't pass up a guy who's had the kind of career he's had" (DENVER POST, 3/14). Klis noted Elway called Broncos QB Peyton Manning Monday, and Manning "among other Bronco players honored Elway’s request and made a recruiting call to Welker." Elway said, "I asked Peyton about it yesterday to make sure he was on board" (DENVERPOST.com, 3/13). ESPN.com's Bill Williamson wrote Elway "showed the NFL, once again, he is as powerful in the front office" as he was on the field. This was a "go-for-it move." Elway "knows what it takes to wins Super Bowls and he knows his chance is now" (ESPN.com, 3/13). Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said, “If John Elway wasn't already in the Hall of Fame as a player, he’d be laying the foundation to be in the Hall of Fame as a GM” (“PFT,” NBC Sports Network, 3/13). In Denver, Mark Kiszla writes for the Broncos, it now is "Super Bowl or bust." And the rivalry between the Broncos and the Patriots "just got hotter" (DENVER POST, 3/14).
LOWBALLIN' IN BOSTON? In Providence, Paul Kenyon writes what was "surprising" about Welker signing with the Broncos after six years with the Patriots was how reluctant the Pats were "willing to go to keep him." The only offer the Patriots made was "for $10 million for two years, with incentives." The Broncos were "so happy to acquire Welker" that Elway "announced the signing himself on Twitter." The most "significant aspect of Welker’s contract is that the $12 million is fully guaranteed" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 3/14). In Boston, Greg Bedard writes of Welker's departure from the Patriots, "In the end, it was about respect." Welker "never thought the Patriots showed enough." As of yesterday morning, there was "no market for him; the Patriots appeared to have gauged the market perfectly." Elway might have "played possum so the Patriots would think there were no competitors for Welker." The Patriots "made one last push to retain Welker," as team Owner Robert Kraft "talked to the receiver personally." But the Patriots "did not make a counter-offer, so the decision for Welker was easy" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/14). ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi said, “I think everyone right now is looking around in that locker room and saying, ‘What just happened?’" ESPN’s Eric Mangini: “And you lost him for $12 million. You didn’t lose him for a ridiculous contract” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 3/13). Mangini added, "New England will set a walk-away number and will stick to a walk-away number unlike a lot of other teams” (“NFL32,” ESPN2, 3/13).
GETTING PERSONAL: WEEI-FM's Gerry Callahan noted Belichick could have gotten a deal with Welker done at a "good price ... and everyone’s happy and he looks really smart.” But Belichick chose not to because “he doesn’t like Wes Welker." Callahan: "All those other factors, those peripheral factors, enter the minds of most GMs and most coaches. They do not enter the equation when it comes to Bill Belichick.” He added, "This is idiotic, but I have to respect him for his balls. I don’t think Kraft’s happy, I don’t think Brady’s happy, I don’t think any fans are happy. I know Welker’s not happy” ("Dennis & Callahan," WEEI-FM, 3/14). Pro Football Talk's Florio said fans “have to wonder” what motivated Welker to leave the Patriots: whether to “break the bank” or to join the Broncos and “truly stick it to the New England Patriots for not taking care of him the way he thought they should” ("PFT," NBC Sports Network, 3/13). NFL.com's Albert Breer writes Welker "finally had enough of the leveraging and squeezing and hardball tactics." So like several other players before him, including Lawyer Milloy, Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel and Richard Seymour, he "told the Patriots where they could stick their value assessment" (NFL.com, 3/14).
ALIENATING TOM BRADY? In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs writes the "perplexing thing is exactly what the Patriots dislike about Welker so much that they wouldn't even spring for an extra $1 million a year to sign him." That part is "stunning." And "why in God's name would you risk alienating" Patriots QB Tom Brady at "this point in his career" (HARTFORD COURANT, 3/14). YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver wrote Welker's departure will "be especially jarring to Brady given the obvious conclusion" that the Patriots "lowballed the receiver in negotiations." The organization "seemed to be daring Welker to test the market, and he took the dare." Silver: "Why, again, did Brady do his bosses a solid by agreeing to that extension?" A source close to Brady said, "He's got so much pressure on his shoulders now -- and again. It's hard not to feel like they've sold him out" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/13). In Boston, Karen Guregian writes, "Little did Brady know when he opted to re-do his contract, and afford the Patriots more cap space to sign players that would help win them the next championship, the plan included handing Welker over to his chief rival Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos." No one "told Brady the Pats didn't value Welker as much as he did" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/14). In N.Y., Judy Battista writes Brady "would have every right to feel fooled" after his extension and now Welker's exit, which "was part of the Patriot Way ... the cold business decisions that really shouldn't surprise anyone anymore" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/14). SI.com's Peter King wrote it is "highly unlikely" that Welker signing with the Broncos for a "relative pittance is what Tom Brady had in mind when he gave the Patriots $15 million in cap relief two weeks ago." King: "Bad, bad decision by New England" (SI.com, 3/13).
NO PAT ON THE BACK: In Boston, Ron Borges writes the Patriots "use every means possible to control the cattle and the minute they relinquish that control you are G-O-N-E." The Patriots "did what they’ve done for years: they rewarded loyalty with a lowball offer and then discarded Welker." The Patriots value "control over all else and thus march to the beat of their own drummer" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/14). Also in Boston, Christopher Gasper writes both Welker and the Patriots "miscalculated and mismanaged the situation." Welker "didn't get the big payday he deserved" in his "last shot to cash in." But a veteran Patriots player wanting a raise had "better be prepared to raise a stink." A conciliatory tone "doesn’t get the Patriots’ attention; inflammatory rhetoric, defamatory statements, and withholding your services does" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/14). FOXSPORTS.com's Peter Schrager writes the trade was "about 'The Patriot Way' -- a cold, hard way of doing business." Welker's departure is "in line with the way the Patriots have long done business." No veteran will "ever hold the Patriots' feet to the fire." The "Patriot Way" is to "get everything you can out of a veteran player, negotiate a new deal and then cut bait when the cost gets too high" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/14).