Just because Wes Welker played his best football in New England doesn't mean he enjoyed his Patriots experience more than any other.
The former Patriots wide receiver, now the San Francisco 49ers' wide receivers coach, admitted Wednesday he felt a weight was lifted off his shoulders when he left New England in 2012.
"Maybe a little bit," Welker told WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show." "I was still upset about it. I did want to be there, but there was part of me — I just like enjoying the game. I like having fun, all those things."
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Head coach Bill Belichick has established an unparalleled system of success in New England, but the "Patriot Way" can be demanding on players and isn't for everyone.
Now that Welker is in the coaching world -- he began as an offensive assistant for the Houston Texans in 2017 and joined the 49ers in 2019 -- he believes there's room for players to enjoy themselves while staying committed to winning.
"Coaching now, you learn a lot from the tactics and different things like that, but at the same time putting your own twist on it and understanding — I tell my guys all the time: ‘As long as we’re giving great effort and we’re on top of our assignments we’re going to be good. Once it’s not where we need to be, that is when we have problems,' " Welker said.
"I feel like you’re playing your best ball when you’re having fun and enjoying (yourself)."
Welker put up historic numbers with the Patriots, racking up 672 receptions over six seasons. He didn't always see eye-to-eye with Belichick, though -- remember the fallout from that "foot" press conference? -- and said Wednesday his New England tenure had some bumps along the way.
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“I think there were some times where I didn’t really feel that at times for different reasons — the guys that we had in the locker room, the camaraderie that we had was better some years than others," Welker said.
" ... When you’re one of the highest-paid players on the team, you’re expected to deliver like a highly-paid player. There’s definitely pressure on that and all these different things is tough and it’s hard. Coach Belichick is hard on guys and tries to get the most out of him that he can."
Welker said in the same interview he wasn't surprised Tom Brady left the Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.
Welker believes Brady was motivated by a desire to prove he can succeed outside New England, but it's not a stretch to think Welker sympathized with Brady for wanting a fresh start after 20 years with Belichick.
"The way he goes about it is there are no superstars," Welker added of Belichick. "Everybody has their role on that team. Everybody is going to get called out. There’s no preferential treatment, and a lot of times he calls out the star players just to set the tone with the whole team."
Belichick's system obviously has reaped enormous benefits, but Welker apparently leans more Lane Johnson than Matthew Slater in his opinion of it.