Welker not surprised by Patriots hardball


Welker not surprised by Patriots hardball

PEABODY -- Wes Welker knew all along that the Patriots would play hardball before handing him a long-term contract.

He knows New England's history for making its best players fight for top-dollar deals. He had seen it play out before.

The Patriots did it with Deion Branch, who held out until he was traded to Seattle and rewarded with a big-money contract there.

They did it with Asante Samuel. He played under the franchise tag for a season and then went to Philadelphia to get his pay day.

Vince Wilfork skipped organized team activities in 2009 before showing up to camp and eventually getting taken care of.

Logan Mankins fought the longest and hardest, holding out of six regular season games in 2010 before the Patriots made him the highest-paid guard in the league.

The Patriots even made Welker's best buddy -- the best player in the history of the franchise -- Tom Brady squirm briefly before giving him what he deserved.

So is Welker surprised that the Patriots are balking at a long-term deal, even though they have said it is their goal to get him locked up for multiple years? Of course not.

"No. It's pretty consistent," Welker said of the Patriots' negotiation tactics. "You learn from it. And at the same time, you just appreciate being able to go out there and play the game, appreciate the fact that you got the opportunity to win a lot of ball games. I look forward to that."

After Welker signed his franchise tender, he told the Boston Herald that he didn't think holding out would help his chances at a long-term contract.

History shows that isn't always true. When Patriots players have held out, some have been rewarded with generous deals (see above). But in some of those cases, their rewards came from another franchise in another city.

That seems to matter to Welker. On Saturday, he repeatedly intimated how much he enjoys being a part of the Patriots franchise and wants to stay there.

"I enjoy playing. I enjoy being out there. I enjoy being a Patriot," he said. "All those things go in together and we get paid to do it -- paid handsomely. I'm excited about that."

Welker also reitterated that his love of football is what helped force him to sign his franchise tender when he did. The thought of missing organized team activities didn't appeal to him.

He admitted that his passion for football may have worked against him during the course of his long-term contract negotiations.

"Maybe," he said. "I'm not too worried about it. I love playing, and I think that's something I need to put into perspective more. Not so much the business side of it. I enjoy playing, enjoy going out there being out there with my teammates and playing the game I love. I think that's the key thing I can do. The rest will take care of itself.

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 


The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.