Wes Welker is no longer a member of the New England Patriots, signing a reported two-year, $12 million deal with the Denver Broncos. That leaves Tom Brady without his most trusted target and many wondering where the Patriots' offense goes from here.
Welker produced 672 catches in six seasons as the NFL's top slot receiver, becoming a focal point for a Patriots offense that led the league in scoring three times during that stretch, an accomplishment never previously achieved by a Brady-led offense.
Welker's uncommon quickness, explosion out of his cuts, precise route running, vision and toughness made him the perfect player for New England to retool its offense around when it acquired him via trade in 2007. The threat of the quick passing game (generated in part in the slot) had a trickle-down effect on the way defenses pressured Tom Brady.
So now what for the Patriots, who have ample cash to spend in free agency but just five selections in the upcoming draft?
The team has a documented history of replacing departed veterans, and is among the best at manipulating its offense to maximize the personnel. Receivers who have left the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era have seldom achieved identical success elsewhere, and the Patriots have been able to plug holes without skipping much of a beat.
Still, moving on from Welker, the franchise's leader in receptions, will not be easy.
How will the Patriots replace him?