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Welker's Transition Tough, Even with Smooth Landing

Posted Mar 14, 2013

Wide receiver Wes Welker made sure to thank the New England Patriots in his first press conference as a Denver Bronco.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It would have been in poor taste for Wes Welker to have been giddy at his press conference Thursday.

Yes, his arrival simultaneously strengthened the Broncos and weakened the Patriots, one of their primary rivals for the AFC title. But Welker had given six splendid seasons to New England and had become nearly as identifiable with the team as Tom Brady, the lighthouse behind the end zone and the "Flying Elvis" helmet logo.

Brady flourished without Welker and likely will again, but for most of the last six years, you couldn't say one name without thinking of the other, which is why their parting is more sorrow than sweet.

"That was definitely probably the hardest part, leaving Tom," Welker said. "He's a great competitor, great player, great friend across the board. I wish the best for him."

Eventually, Welker will embrace the new chapter of his career, and a new jersey color -- although perhaps not a new number, because 83 is available. But until just days before John Elway's 233-word introduction, there was a chance Welker's career in New England would continue, allowing him to post franchise standards that would be difficult to match.

Perhaps that's why Welker's first statement as a Bronco was to thank the Patriots -- who he mentioned before saying "Broncos." New England gambled on Welker as a restricted free agent in 2007 when many felt he was too small to be an every-down receiver and was more suited to third-down and punt-return work. The Patriots saw something more, and he seized the chance -- but he also knew he owed them gratitude.

"I'd definitely like to thank New England for the six years there and all the trust and everything they put in me and the opportunities I got," Welker said. "But I'm looking forward to being a Denver Bronco and really trying to help this team win."

New England always has a backup plan; you don't have 12 consecutive winning seasons without one. So when news of Welker's departure rattled the league, it was barely an hour before former Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola was signed as his replacement, paralleling their college days, when Amendola helped replace Welker at Texas Tech.

But Amendola is a relatively unproven commodity, has missed 20 games to injuries the last two years and sat out more regular-season games last season (five) than Welker has missed in his career (four). Even their former position coach at Texas Tech, Dana Holgorsen, told CBSSports.com that comparing the two was unfair.

New England is gambling on potential, as they did with Welker in 2007. The Broncos are betting on performance, that a receiver who flourished with Brady can do the same in a similar offense with the equally accomplished Peyton Manning.

"I think you look for a guy with skins on the wall. This guy has been as productive a receiver as there's been in the league," said Broncos Head Coach John Fox. "Forget about just as a slot, just in general, whether it be number of catches, yardage -- like I said, this guy's got skins on the wall, he's got great production -- maybe as much production as anybody over the last three years -- and this game's about matchups."

And the matchup with the Patriots next season -- in Foxborough, Mass., time and date to be determined -- just got even more fascinating.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us and a lot of games before that," Welker said, "but I'm definitely looking forward to that one."

But don't expect a trail of bitterness between the two sides. Leaving isn't easy for Welker, even when his destination represents the smoothest possible landing spot.

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