PHOENIX — Wes Welker’s departure from the Patriots was met with consternation and disappointment in New England, but in New York it was cheered by at least one person: Jets coach Rex Ryan.
“I’m glad Wes is not there. I’m not kidding you,” Ryan said Tuesday at the AFC coaches breakfast during the league meetings. “That guy was a pain in the tail and just a great player. Durable, tough. I hated Wes Welker. I’m just kidding. Kind of.
“You know what? I admire him. There is no question about it. In fact, I’m a huge fan of Wes Welker’s, and I am glad he’s not there anymore.”
Ryan could hardly contain his respect for Welker, who signed a two-year deal with the Broncos last week.
“He’s amazing,” Ryan said. “He’s an unbelievable route runner. He doesn’t run but maybe five routes, but you just can’t cover him. Him and [Tom] Brady were on the same page. That’s why it was like, ‘Throw it to somebody else!’ One game he caught, like, 15 balls against us and I totally got ripped for it but we tried everything.
“He’s so talented, and just a great route runner. He’s tough. He’s like a running back when he catches the football. Brady and him were on the same page all the time. Wes Welker is a much better athlete than they give him credit for. I think he’s a great athlete. That’s what’s really underrated about Welker. Maybe it’s because he wears that big helmet and all that other jazz, but the guy’s a tremendous player.”
Broncos coach John Fox said quarterback Peyton Manning was enthused by the acquisition.
“Oh yeah, he’s excited,” Fox said. “It’s tough for him a little bit because he’s good buddies with [free agent Brandon Stokley], and Stoke did a real good job for us. A lot of times, moving in this league can be tough. That was the downside. But I think everybody is pretty excited.
“I think just having played defense against [Welker] so many times, he’s definitely a tough matchup. I’m not fortunate enough to be able to put a single guy on him, so there have always been little things that help in coverage. I think that can help other guys, receivers on the field, whether it is Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano, the former Ravens defensive assistant and coordinator, isn’t looking forward to seeing Welker in a Broncos uniform. The teams will play this season.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Pagano said. “He’s one of those that, from a defensive perspective, once you turn the tape on and you start talking to your defense when they come in on Wednesday and you’re getting ready to play and defend the guy, he’s a guy we’ve got to take care of. He’s been a tremendous player for a number of years and very, very productive.’’
Ryan wasn’t so sure Danny Amendola would be able to pick up where Welker left off.
“They bring in this other kid from the same school [Texas Tech], and clearly Wes has worked with him based on the way he runs routes and all that type of stuff. So he’ll step right in. I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Ryan said. “Will he have the same success as Wes Welker? I don’t know, because Wes Welker had historical success. So we’ll see. That’s some big shoes to fill.”
Pagano feels that the Patriots’ system will endure, like it always does.
“We’ve seen from Troy Brown to Wes to now Danny, they’ll slide him in there — saw [Julian] Edelman play in there,” Pagano said. “I’ve seen a bunch of guys play in that position and so knowing Danny, I think it will be a seamless transition for them just because they’ve got a system in place. I’m sure he’s a smart guy and he’ll pick it up and he’ll learn it and probably won’t miss a beat.”
‘Take it or leave it’
Welker’s agency, Athletes First, headed by David Dunn and Medfield native Brian Murphy, issued a statement to clarify their position on Welker’s contract negotiations one day after owner Robert Kraft put the blame on them for Welker’s exit.
“Both sides are clear that the Patriots made one offer to Wes Welker since the prior negotiations ended in July 2012,” the statement read. “Both sides also agree that this two-year offer came just hours before the start of free agency despite discussions that began at the NFL Combine. Moreover, this lone offer was presented as a ‘take it or leave it offer.’
“When we asked if there was room for structural changes, we were told no. We made a counter-offer for the same term and same maximum dollar amount as their offer and it was rejected. We inquired if any of the offer’s components were negotiable and were told no. This refusal to actually negotiate made it easy to reject the Patriots offer. Nevertheless, when we received the Denver Broncos’ offer, Wes personally talked to Mr. Kraft to give the Patriots the opportunity to match it. The Patriots rejected this opportunity and Wes signed with the Denver Broncos.”
$15m in cap space
The Patriots have $15,271,750 in cap space remaining, according to a league source. That includes a $54,412 miscellaneous cap credit on Deion Branch’s contract from last season.
The Patriots will not spend all that space. They need to set aside $6 million to $12 million for various expenses, including draft picks, incentives and possible contract extensions before the next league year. The Patriots carried over an average of $6.15 million from one season to the next the past two seasons.
Talib has bonuses
Cornerback Aqib Talib’s one-year contract includes $4.58 million in guaranteed money ($3 million signing bonus). He can receive up to $350,000 in per-game roster bonuses, $500,000 for the Pro Bowl, and $50,000 workout bonus.
Talib’s cap number is $4.86 million. Offensive tackle Will Svitek counts $840,000 against the cap.
League owners approved two rules changes, but have not taken a vote yet on the tuck rule, or prohibiting a player using the crown of his helmet in space.
The peel-back block — offensive players blocking low from the side back toward your end zone — was eliminated entirely (it had been allowed inside the tackle box). The field goal rules — no more than six players on one side of the line of scrimmage, no pushing kick rushers, and adding defenseless protection of the snapper — were approved.