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Old 03-14-2013, 09:57 AM   #46

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Not just leverage: Welker spurns Patriots, signs with Broncos

You have to admit, 'Wes Welker wings west' kind of has a ring to it. The Broncos are hoping it's a big shiny ring, and comes with a parade.

It's a hands-down, win-win for Denver. The Broncos get to add the game's best slot receiver to a receiving corps that already features the promising tandem of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and it leaves the rival Patriots with some serious work to do in order to replace the NFL-record 110-plus balls that Welker caught in five of the past six seasons.

It's tempting to wonder if the balance of power in the AFC just shifted these past two days. Super Bowl champion Baltimore suffered multiple early losses in free agency, and now New England must deal with a major defection to its pace-setting offense. Both the Ravens and Patriots beat the Broncos last season, so the gap looks considerably narrowed from this vantage point.

But it's too soon to know how much ground Denver might have made up on its chief AFC rivals. Again, it's mid-March and the early days of free agency are no time to make final assessments. The Broncos, like the Ravens and Patriots, remain a work in progress. What their roster resembles in late summer and early fall is what really matters.

Still, stealing the first-down machine that is Welker from New England is a clear-cut coup for Manning, football czar John Elway and the rest of Denver's Super Bowl-dreaming Broncos. They got a bargain and a proven, record-setting playmaker, and left the Patriots with a void.

Welker may well be a "system'' receiver, but it's a system that works with him in it. And Denver and Manning will be wise enough to exploit it -- the same way Brady and the Patriots have the past six years. It'll be surprising if Welker is any less effective a weapon as a Bronco than he was in New England. He has merely changed sides in the best quarterback rivalry the NFL has ever known. Money aside, I suppose that makes him one of Wednesday's biggest winners.

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