Wes Welker was back in South Florida ‒ at least for a day.
Whether he’s back for good, however, might not be decided for some time.
Welker, the one-time Miami Dolphins receiver who went on to break records with the New England Patriots, became the latest free agent to visit with the Dolphins Wednesday. He arrived at team headquarters early and stayed through the day. But like Michael Crabtree and Greg Jennings before him, Welker left Davie without a deal.
The Dolphins’ front office has made its two-pronged thinking clear in recent weeks: 1. The Dolphins want to sign a veteran to add leadership to a wide receiver group that is the youngest in the NFL. And 2. They want to do so at their price.
League observers say that’s how the free agent dance goes this time of year. With the draft just three weeks away, teams are unwilling to overpay (or, in the minds of the players, even pay market value) for veterans if cheaper and younger options can be found in the college ranks. Many believe the Dolphins will, at the very least, consider taking a wide receiver with the 14th overall pick if one of the top prospects remain when they go on the clock. And if they don’t land one in the draft, they’ll revisit free agency.
That leaves veterans such as Welker in limbo.
Should Welker sign with the team, it would complete an unlikely circle that began more than a decade ago, when he arrived in Miami as an undersized (and probably under-appreciated) young player. After a couple of unremarkable years in Miami, Welker was dealt to the Patriots for a second and a seventh-round pick. Teamed with Tom Brady in New England, he became an instant star, catching more than 100 passes in five of his six seasons there. He led the NFL in catches in 2007 (112), 2009 (123) and 2011 (122).
Welker spent the last two years with the Broncos, but his production dipped ‒ in large part because of his health. He suffered a series of concussions the last two seasons, and Dolphins doctors presumably would want to conduct a full exam before clearing him medically. Welker, who turns 34 next month, caught just 49 passes in 14 games last year.
The Dolphins have been slow-playing free agency the last few weeks, and it might have cost them on Thursday. Running back Stevan Ridley, who visited the team recently, signed with the Jets, NFL Network first reported.