What’s more important: winning a championship or proving a point? If you’re Bill Belichick, apparently it’s the latter. In one of the most disheartening free agent decisions in recent memory, Belichick decided to let Wes Welker, the unequivocal number-one wide receiving option on the New England Patriots, walk for absolutely nothing.
Not only did the Patriots let the decision on whether to give Welker a long-term deal drag on for years – I mean, if you’re going to end up losing him anyway, you might as well have traded him last year and got at least a third-round pick in return – but they let Welker walk over a $2 million dollar difference. Or, in Robert Kraft financial terms, a drop in the bucket.
Think about this for a second: Belichick and the Pats let the guy, who has had significantly more catches than anyone in the league over the last five years, get away for what amounts to 1/10 of Joe Flacco’s salary. This isn’t just disheartening if you’re a Patriots fan – it’s disheartening if you’re a sports fan. And, it makes you clearly question whether the used-to-be genius is even more arrogant than previously thought.
Sports have become more about the money than ever before. Free agents bolt from contenders to also-rans before the ink on their new plush free agent contract dries. There is little to no loyalty among players, and almost gone are the days when fans can root for their favorite player for his entire career. But it wasn’t supposed to happen this time, not with Welker, not with the little guy who continuously played through injuries and sacrificed his body time-and-time-again.
When watching a Pats game the last several years, it seemed as if every other play Welker was going over the middle and letting middle linebackers tee-off on him while serving as Tom Brady’s safety blanket. He was the quintessential company man and the ultimate Patriot – he never complained about his contract publicly, even though the Patriots proceeded to franchise a player, twice, that Michael Irvin deemed “the best player in football.”
Belichick seems to revel in his “I’m-the smartest-kid-in-the-room-and-
Then, in 2006, came the biggest blown-lead in AFC Championship history at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Pats blew a 21-3 lead, thanks in part to Belichick’s decision in the offseason not to re-sign Deion Branch or provide an adequate replacement – and, no, Reche Caldwell is not an adequate replacement, not on this planet anyway. Caldwell played an integral part in the losing effort, dropping balls on key third downs, in effect stalling time-killing drives and allowing Manning to erase an 18-point lead.
The next year, in 2007, Spy Gate broke in the media, and the once infallible Belichick came under even more scrutiny. To his credit, he led the Pats to an 18-1 record. However, the final loss would be to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, and while amassing 18-straight wins, he created plenty of enemies along the way, such as Washington Redskins and Hall-of-Fame Coach Joe Gibbs, for continuously running up the score on opponents (Belichick beat Gibbs that year by a score of 51-10, having Brady repeatedly throw the ball from the shotgun on the final possession).
Between 2008 and 2011, the Pats would fizzle out in the playoffs year after year. What used to be considered one of the best bend-but-don’t-break defenses around became statistically the worst in the league in 2011. The defensive mastermind had squandered countless draft picks and free agent pick-ups on defensive flops, such as Adalius Thomas and Darius Butler. The scrutiny would intensify.
Gone was the veil of invincibility. No longer protected by Teflon, Belichick was covered now by heavy-duty Saran wrap. Not having won a Super Bowl in nine-plus years now, and putting together some truly horrendous defensives, had darkened his luster. But the condescending and arrogant attitude he took with the media and players-alike is what will leave a sour taste in the mouths of some New Englanders.
Bill Belichick’s whole act was already tired well before the release of Welker. That said, however, this may be remembered as the tipping point. As bone-headed as it was to sit Welker for Rex Ryan foot jokes during the AFC Divisional Round playoff match-up with the Jets in 2011, this goes well beyond that. The saying goes, “sometimes it’s better to be thought a fool than to say something foolish and remove all doubt.” Well, the same could be said for being an arrogant, know-it-all jerk.
Wes Welker did nothing but use every inch of his 5’9” frame to try to win you, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots another Super Bowl. He came back early from ACL reconstructive surgery, and he let you franchise him, twice – without holding out like Deion Branch did, I might add. He did nothing but act as the archetypal professional in a league filled with cry-baby, selfish divas who couldn’t care less about the fans or winning. So, how do you reward Welker’s model and honorable behavior? You let him walk over $2 million dollars.
Tom E. Curran reported yesterday that Tom Brady used words such as “disgrace” and “disservice” to describe what transpired today. I’ll take it a step further. Coach Bill used to have carte blanche to be the biggest curmudgeon imaginable. That was before the bad losses and the terrible draft picks and free agent pick-ups. That was before putting together historically inept defenses. And it was definitely well before he gave up on Wes Welker. He’s a self-serving, arrogant jerk. Some of us already knew that, but he just removed all doubt.