Depending on who you believe this week, Wes Welker has either already cut ties with the New England Patriots and decided to sign elsewhere or his chances of re-signing with the team are as strong as ever. The Welker conundrum will be solved one way or another within the next two weeks, as NFL Free Agency begins early next week. Should he re-sign with the Patriots, then depending on the salary cap hit the team will be happy to move forward with the status quo. However, if he moves on, the Patriots will need to explore other options.
As such, it's important to understand the permutations of each move and which best fits the franchise:
1. Re-Sign Julian Edelman
Welker isn't the only Patriots' wide receiver whose contract is coming up. Edelman's rookie deal reflected in not a huge amount on the field, but in spurts he showed his exceptional talent. On special teams he had many important returns, on defense he contributed effectively when asked to adapt and on offense he entered this past season as a starter. By re-signing him to fill Welker's role, he would need to prove his ability to be consistent in a greater role and most importantly, remain durable.
Edelman comes with many question marks because of the unproven nature of his spell so far in the NFL. However, to counter that he offers the Patriots the financial flexibility with the rest of their roster without sacrificing the sheer talent levels at the position.
2. Draft Tavon Austin
Austin is one of the hottest prospects in this year's draft class. He isn't expected to go at the very top of the draft, but should be taken within the top 20 picks. That would mean that if the Patriots wanted him they would need to trade up in the draft, something that will only be possible if they fill most of their other needs in free agency. Trading up may not be ideal this year from an assets point of view, but for Austin, it could be a great move.
He is a wide receiver who can do a multitude of things on offense and as a returner. Much like Welker, his best fit in the NFL appears to be as an inside receiver where he can lose defenders in space. Like Welker, Austin has consistent hands, but unlike Welker, he also has the ability to hit home runs from any position on the field. The young offensive talent combines a rare mixture of agility, speed, awareness and ball skills that are unmatched at the professional level. Whether those traits can translate to the NFL is the only question.
3. Sign Danny Amendola
Often times there is a laziness to comparing white receivers to each other in the NFL. From a sheer positional perspective, white receivers are in the minority the way black starting quarterbacks are. That means that Amendola, Welker and a guy like Brian Hartline are lumped together without real thought the way Byron Leftwich and Robert Griffin III can be. While normally those comparisons are off, this one is not.
Amendola and Welker have slight differences in their skill-set. Amendola is a greater big play threat and can line up outside to better effect. His overall strength is more imposing even though he appears slightly shorter on the field. What Amendola doesn't offer is the consistency and durability of Welker. Welker's ability to make more difficult receptions on a consistent basis sets him apart from most possession receivers, while his durability is unmatched. Amendola has had consistent injury issues over the last few years.
Couple that with the big free agent fee he would likely command and signing him becomes an even worse idea. Signing Amendola would notably impact multiple other areas of the team's roster.