The Patriots appear to be preparing for life after Wes Welker early this season. (Cliff Welch/Icon SMI)
Are the Patriots already preparing for life without Wes Welker? That was the buzz around Foxborough after Welker, awaiting a new contract to replace the franchise tag tender he reluctantly signed this offseason, made just three catches in New England's Week 1 win and split time with Julian Edelman.
That topic figures to be front and center again after this week, too. When the Patriots took the field for the first time on Sunday, it was Edelman and not Welker lined up in the slot against the Cardinals.
New England's opening possession lasted all of one play, with Tom Brady throwing in interception, but Edelman again took the field while Welker stood on the sideline after the Patriots got the ball back. Welker finally made his way onto the field late in the first quarter after tight end Aaron Hernandez limped off with an injury, sending the Patriots into a three-receiver set.
Brady said earlier this week that Welker is a "huge part of this offense" and "there are going to be games where Wes has not as many opportunities, and there are going to be games where he has a ton of opportunities." Given that it's Week 2, Brady probably has a point, but keeping a healthy Welker off the field early sure appears to be a statement move by Bill Belichick.
Welker has 554 catches over the past five seasons and led the league in receptions three times during that stretch; Edelman has 49 career catches and entered Sunday with 12 catches since 2010.
Edelman is also set to be a free agent after this season -- though he's earning about $615K this season, compared to the $9.5 million Welker is taking home.
Are the Patriots just mixing things up and/or saving Welker for later in the season? Or is this a purposeful move by Belichick to reduce Welker's value and prep his team for a future without their reliable receiver?
Either way, it's a development to keep an eye on.