Commentary

Welker is Belichick's best find

Ex-Dolphins WR leads NFL in catches; Moss, Dillon among other top acquisitions

Updated: December 5, 2009, 9:47 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In Bill Belichick's 10 seasons in New England, he has made 69 trades. On the weekend in which the Patriots visit the Dolphins, it seems like a good time to revisit his best: acquiring Wes Welker from Miami in March of 2007.

Welker returns to his old home stadium as the NFL's most productive receiver since the trade.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesMiami fans are still wondering how the Dolphins could let Wes Welker get away.

"I was at home there for a couple years, so it's always nice to go back and see some familiar faces," Welker said. "It will be good to get back."

The Dolphins would obviously like Welker back full time, but there is no undoing the trade made by the franchise's prior management regime. Welker was a restricted free agent at the time and the feeling among Miami's brass was that a second-round draft choice, with a seventh-rounder to sweeten the pot, was good value for a player who entered the league as a rookie free agent and was considered by many a No. 3 receiver at best.

It was a bad miscalculation and one that is still paying dividends for the Patriots today.

Keeping in mind that some recent trades need to play out to better analyze, here is one view of Belichick's best trades in New England and why:

1. Welker from the Dolphins for 2007 second- and seventh-round draft choices (March 5, 2007).

Part of what puts the Welker trade in the top spot is not just acquiring him, but also locking him up with a five-year contract in his prime years. Furthermore, it's easy to forget now but many were questioning if the Patriots paid too much because Welker was viewed by some as solely a slot receiver.

The only aspect of the deal that critics now question is how the Dolphins could let him get away.

What Welker has accomplished since the trade is remarkable. His 308 receptions since the start of the 2007 season leads the NFL, and he also is in the top spot for yards after catch over that span (1,833).

The other part that makes the deal stand out is that any team could have signed Welker to an offer sheet and surrendered only a second-round draft choice because Welker was a restricted free agent. The Patriots, knowing Welker was a perfect fit for their system, beat the rest of the league to the punch.

2. Randy Moss from the Raiders for a 2007 fourth-round draft choice (April 29, 2007). Part of what made the Moss trade so compelling was the way it unfolded: Belichick's late-night conversation with Raiders owner Al Davis and then Moss hustling into town on a private jet early Sunday morning to take a physical and consummate the trade before the second day of the draft.

Tom Brady also had to restructure his contract so the team could initially take on Moss' salary before Moss reworked his own deal.

It all had to happen quickly.

The Patriots were the only team willing to take the plunge, and it helped that they had a strong locker room in which Moss could be a spoke in the wheel and not be asked to hold the wheel together. That Moss signed a three-year extension in 2008 only makes the initial deal look better.

3. Running back Corey Dillon from the Bengals for a 2004 second-round draft choice (April 19, 2004).

Dillon was exactly what the offense needed in 2004, a battering ram charging for a single-season franchise record 1,635 yards.

What was impressive about the Dillon deal is how it was set up by two other trades the prior year: Safety Tebucky Jones was traded to the Saints for three picks (2003 third-rounder, 2003 seventh-rounder, 2004 fourth-rounder). The third-rounder from that deal was then traded to the Dolphins for a 2004 second-round pick.

That forward thinking gave the Patriots the extra second-rounder to send to the Bengals for Dillon as they essentially turned Jones into Dillon and Tully Banta-Cain (2003 seventh-round pick). The main blemish on the deal was not hitting on the 2004 fourth-round pick, selecting safety Dexter Reid.

4. Trading a 2003 first-round draft choice to Baltimore for a 2003 second-round pick and 2004 first-rounder (April 26, 2003).

Having already made a minor trade to move up one spot in the first round of the 2003 draft to select Ty Warren, the Patriots had another first-round selection to make (19th overall).

Capitalizing on the Ravens' desire to select quarterback Kyle Boller, they traded the pick for a 2003 second-round pick and 2004 first-rounder. When the players selected were defensive back Eugene Wilson (after another trade) and Vince Wilfork, it made it a lopsided swap in favor of New England.

5. Ted Washington from the Bears for a 2004 fourth-round draft choice (August 19, 2003).

Coming off a 2002 season in which they surrendered an alarming 4.7 yards per rush, and miscalculated that free agent Steve Martin could fill the void at nose tackle, the Patriots entered training camp with the intention of trying Jarvis Green at the all-important position.

Once the Patriots realized Green was a better fit at end, they traded for the mammoth Washington, who was one of the main reasons the run defense was markedly improved (3.6 yards per rush) and New England returned to the Super Bowl.

The downer for the Patriots was that Washington departed in free agency after the season, making it only a one-year marriage.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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