BOSTON (CBS) — The only thing worse than trading away an all-world-caliber receiver for essentially nothing is trading away an all-world-caliber receiver for essentially nothing and having to try to defend him twice every year.
Just ask the Miami Dolphins.
Those Dolphins decided only to offer restricted free agent Wes Welker a qualifying offer following the 2006 season, when Welker caught 67 passes for 687 yards on a 6-10 team which had Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon and Daunte Culpepper all starting games at quarterback. Welker had more receptions than any other Dolphin and he was second behind Marty Booker in receiving yards, and he served as the team’s only punt returner. Despite the breakout season, the Dolphins only offered Welker a $1.3 million salary, and they later sent him to New England in exchange for a second- and seventh-round draft pick.
Those draft picks turned into Samson Satele and Abraham Wright. Welker turned into the league’s most reliable receiver.
Of course, he likely wouldn’t have risen to such a high ranking without having Tom Brady throwing him passes in a system which utilized his skills. Regardless, the Dolphins have had to deal with watching Welker lead the league in receptions over the past five-plus seasons, and they’ve had the unenviable task of trying to slow him down twice a year.
That effort hasn’t brought about much in the way of positive results. In the nine games Welker has played against his former team, he’s won seven of them. He’s averaged 8.3 receptions and 109 receiving yards per game while scoring four touchdowns. Included in that stretch are the following performances:
Week 7, 2007: Nine receptions, 138 yards, 2 TDs
Week 12, 2008: Eight receptions, 120 yards
Week 9, 2009: Nine receptions, 84 yards
Week 13, 2009: 10 receptions, 167 yards
Week 1, 2011: Eight receptions, 160 yards, 2 TDs
Week 16, 2011: 12 receptions, 138 yards
Satele, meanwhile, spent a couple of seasons in Miami, was moved from center to guard and was traded away to the Raiders. Wright never played in the NFL.
Suffice it to say, seeing Welker twice every year must serve as a painful reminder of being on the wrong end of one of the more lopsided trades in sports history.
It is true that the Dolphins can’t be faulted for not seeing Welker as a future four-time All-Pro (and counting), but that doesn’t mean the Welker situation wasn’t handled about as poorly as humanly possible. For starters, as reported at the time by Mike Reiss, then-GM Randy Mueller could have at least tendered an offer of $2.35 million, which would have ensured that any team to match that offer would have to surrender a first- and third-round pick. A $2.35 million salary would not have been exorbitant, but even if the Dolphins were unwilling to make that offer, they could have offered a $1.85 million contract. If that offer were to have been matched by another team, the Dolphins would have received a first-round pick in return.
Such a roadblock for other teams may have been enough for Miami to hang on to Welker, but if not, it still would have at least netted the Dolphins a better return. The Patriots owned the 28th pick that year, which they traded to San Francisco, but at the time, a number of solid receiving options (Sidney Rice, Anthony Gonzalez, Steve Smith) were still on the board. The trickle-down effect of what the Dolphins could have guaranteed themselves is a bit too vast to try to guess who they would have drafted, but it’s a fair guess to say they would have done better with a first- and third-round pick than Samson Satele and Abraham Wright.
That failure, along with many others that preceded the 1-15 season of 2007, led to the firing of Mueller. Since the trade, though, the Dolphins are 37-54 and have played in just one playoff game, a 27-9 home loss to Baltimore in 2008. They’ve had five different leading receivers since the trade, too, while the Patriots have had two. As you might expect, it’s been Welker five times.
And this year’s no different, with Welker dispelling early-season rumors of a potential Patriots breakup by catching 80 passes for 961 yards. He’s averaging 7.3 catches and 87 yards per week, and the Dolphins will have their hands full trying to slow him down on Sunday.
No matter the result, seeing Welker run wild against them for the 10th time, the Dolphins organization and fans will no doubt be feeling some pain on Sunday afternoon.