ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – He traded Picasso for Michelangelo. Or maybe it was the other way around.
While John Elway famously said he had no Plan B when he signed Peyton Manning in 2012, Wes Welker certainly had one when the New England Patriots low-balled him on a contract offer last winter.
Welker jumped at the chance to team up with Manning in Denver, where he signed a two-year deal for $12 million, $1 million more per year than the Patriots had offered.
After spending six seasons as Tom Brady’s top target in New England, Welker was Manning’s leading receiver before missing the final month of the season with a concussion.
He still finished with 73 receptions for 778 yards and a career-best 10 TDs and added another in Denver’s 24-17 win over San Diego in the AFC divisional round.
After an unhappy homecoming at Foxborough in November, when his blunder on a punt in the wind led to a 34-31 loss to New England, Welker gets another chance to stick it to his old team Sunday when the Broncos and Patriots square off with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Welker has been asked ever since his arrival in Denver to compare the two QBs with Hall of Fame credentials, something he finds harder to do than to go across the middle with a menacing middle linebacker bearing down on him.
“It’s like comparing Picasso and Michelangelo,” he said. “It’s hard to compare the two.”
Welker isn’t sure if he’s a Michelangelo guy or a Picasso guy, either.
“I couldn’t even tell you,” Welker confessed, revealing he’s less an art aficionado than he is a connoisseur of quarterbacks. “Somebody threw those names at me one time and I thought it sounded pretty good.”
Welker, of course, was asked again this week about the differences between Brady and Manning, admittedly the only other quarterback he wanted to play for after being spoiled by all those spirals from 2007 to 2012.
“I’ll try and answer this and be as indifferent as possible,” he said. “There aren’t too many differences. They are great quarterbacks. They do a great job of keeping guys accountable, and their leadership skills and everything else. They are two guys you want quarterbacking your team. It’s a tossup between those two.”
Meanwhile, John Elway doesn’t see Manning riding off into that orange Rocky Mountain sunset the way Elway did 15 years ago if the Broncos’ quarterback caps his record-setting season with a second Super Bowl ring.
Elway’s body was breaking down, having been sacked 516 times – 244 more than Manning has been in about the same number of games.
“I still think he’s young, and he’s playing well,” Elway, now the Broncos’ executive vice president, said of his quarterback, who’s coming off his best statistical season just two years removed from neck problems that weakened his throwing arm. “That’s going to come down to Peyton. It’s going to come down to what he wants to do.”
Manning has given no indication that he’s anywhere near calling it quits at age 37, although he has dropped phrases lately like “light at the end of the tunnel” when talking about his career.