Time for Cleveland Browns to consider Wes Welker has clearly passed


Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker (83) lands on the ground after being unable to make a catch against Indianapolis Colts cornerback Darius Butler (20) during the second quarter in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2015 NFL season, the Cleveland Browns have what many believe to be one of the worst group of wide receivers a team could assemble.

Consider that:

  • ESPN believes the group has: “little speed, little home-run threat and little that will make opposing defenses scared. In Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, the Browns have a pair of capable starters, but not a big-time No. 1 receiving type. When the two starting wideouts combined for two touchdowns with their previous teams a year ago, and when they have to learn a new offense along with a new quarterback, well that is some serious concern.”
  • NFL.com gave the position group an “Honorable Mention” in its ranking of the weakest offensive position groups.
  • Pro Football Focus is just as unkind, with Hartline, Bowe, Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel all earning Average grades from the site when it ranked the team’s offensive depth chart.

Well, you get the picture.

So it is somewhat understandable when a site starts throwing out suggestions that the Browns should sign every free agent wide receiver to fill the perceived talent gap, while conveniently overlooking the fact that just weeks before training camp starts, there may be a valid reason why a particular player is not currently on an NFL roster.

Related: Browns 2015 Position Preview – Wide Receivers

Which brings us to free agent wide receiver Wes Welker.

There was a time when it would have made sense for the Browns to consider Welker, but that time was 2013.

Welker was in the process of leaving New England following the 2012 season and had yet to turn 32. In his  six years with the Patriots, he averaged 112 receptions, 1,243 yards and six touchdowns per year. His 672 receptions were the most of any receiver during those six years and the highest total in NFL history over a six-year span. At the time, he was No. 2 in Pro Football Focus’ ranking of free agents at the wide receiver position.

By comparison, during that same time frame the Browns did not have a receiver catch more than 80 passes in a single season, had just a lone receiver total more yards in a season and catch more than five touchdowns in a single year (all Braylon Edwards in 2007).

In addition, they were heading into training camp with unproven receivers in Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Andrew Hawkins and Benjamin holding down roster spots.

Fast forward two years and any appeal that Welker in a Browns’ uniform once held has long faded.

In his two seasons with Denver, Welker suffered a pair of concussions in 2013 and was held out by the Broncos for the final three games of the season. At the start of last season, Welker suffered another concussion, and finished the season with just 49 receptions, 464 yards and two touchdowns.

That is a long, long way from the player who was so productive in New England.

The Browns already dealt with a player who couldn’t stay on the field in 2014 due to concussions in tight end Jordan Cameron, which is one of the reasons why losing him in free agency was not as painful as it would appear. If you can’t count on a player to play each week, no matter how talented, how much value to they truly bring to a team?

Even if you wanted to try and sell Welker as a mentor to the inexperienced members of the roster, that role is one that is already being filled by Bowe, making Welker a redundancy.

Related: Wide Receiver Vince Mayle a Breakout Player in 2015?

There is also the fact that Welker is a slot receiver, a position that is currently being held down by Hawkins, who was tapped as the fifth-best slot receiver in the league this week by Bucky Brooks at NFL.com, who wrote that:

"Hawkins isn’t a household name on the national scene, but he has earned the respect of coaches and players around the NFL with his spectacular skills in the slot. He is a dynamic route runner with the kind of short-area quickness that gives even the most polished slot corners problems between the hashes. In addition, Hawkins is an electric open-field runner with the balance, body control and elusiveness to weave through traffic with the ball in his hands. Browns quarterbacks were unable to take full advantage of Hawkins’ skills last year, but he could become a dominant playmaker in the new offense of John DeFilippo, which features more catch-and-run opportunities."

So the Browns have the mentor role and the slot position both filled, meaning Welker is running out of options to find a place on the team that fits him.

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Finally, and probably most importantly, how much time does Welker really have left as an effective NFL player? His next concussion, and it would be hard to argue that there is not another concussion waiting for him down the road, could be his last.

Bringing in Welker and having him take up a roster spot, even if it was only during training camp, would provide little value to the Browns. This is a team that is looking to build long term, and having Welker take away practice reps from receivers like Gabriel and Vince Mayle. Heck, the Browns would even be better served to give practice reps to Terrelle Pryor rather than Welker.

There was once a time when signing Welker as a free agent would have been an appealing option.

But that time has long passed.

Do you think Wes Welker has enough left that the Browns should take a chance on him?

Next: Cleveland Browns 2015 Podcast