Wes Welker leaves Patriots for two-year deal with Denver
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2012, file photo, New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker (83) returns a punt during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Foxborough, Mass. The Denver Broncos have found a new target for Peyton Manning, agreeing to a two-year deal with Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Purchase photo reprints »
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2013, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks to wide receiver Wes Welker (83) before the NFL football AFC Championship football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough, Mass. The Denver Broncos have found a new target for Peyton Manning, agreeing to a two-year deal with Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) Purchase photo reprints »
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Wes Welker is saying goodbye to Tom Brady and hello to Peyton Manning.
After spending six years with Brady in New England, the Pro Bowl receiver agreed to a two-year deal Wednesday to team up with Manning in Denver.
The Welker signing was the highlight of a big day for the Broncos, who once again made a major splash in free agency.
Denver also came to terms on a two-year deal with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, formerly of Jacksonville, and a one-year contract with linebacker Stewart Bradley, who played with the Cardinals the past two seasons.
Last year, the Broncos won the high-stakes contest to sign Manning, prompting Broncos boss John Elway to quip, “Plan B? I don’t have a Plan B. We’re going with Plan A.”
Coming off a 13-3 season during which the Broncos looked like a Super Bowl contender before losing to Baltimore in the division round of the playoffs, Elway is clearly on the same path this time.
He picked up the league’s most productive receiver to play in the slot where Brandon Stokley was last season. Welker’s five 100-catch seasons are the most in the NFL. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his past five seasons and was an All-Pro four of the past five years.
Welker caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and scored six touchdowns last year, helping the Pats go 12-4 and make the AFC title game before they also fell to Baltimore. He developed quite a rapport with Brady during his six seasons with the Patriots.
The Broncos are banking the same kind of relationship can blossom between their 37-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback and his newest target, Welker, who is 31.
On his Twitter account, Elway tweeted: “Excited to have Wes join the Broncos. His production & toughness will be a great asset!”
Although the deal with Welker received a bulk of the attention, the Bradley and Knighton deals could also influence Denver’s starting lineups.
Bradley played last season for Arizona, where he didn’t fit in with the team’s 3-4 scheme. His best season came in Philadelphia in 2008, when he had 108 tackles. He will compete with Nate Irving and Steven Johnson for Denver’s starting middle linebacker spot.
Knighton was a third-round pick of Jacksonville in 2009, when Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was there. His signing, along with Tuesday’s resigning of Kevin Vickerson, gives the Broncos 600-plus pounds of defensive linemen to plug holes in the middle.
“Jack used the word ‘stout.’ He needs stout,” Vickerson said. “He wants us to be stout. Stout in the inside. No movement.”
To open free agency on Tuesday, the Broncos solidified the offensive line by bringing in guard Louis Vasquez on a four-year contract worth $23.4 million, with $13 million of that guaranteed.