Ray Allen is due back in Boston on Monday night for the second time since spurning the Celtics last summer to join the Miami Heat. This visit promises to be much less hyped and trumpeted than the first, when the obligatory “Ray Returns To Boston” storyline quickly became eclipsed by the “Rondo Out For The Year” storyline.
Now that Wes Welker has left the Patriots to join the Denver Broncos, Allen has company in the “Slighted (In His Own Eyes) Star Leaves New England” department. In many ways, their departure scenarios mirror each other: hard-working, All-Star caliber, popular, non-disruptive players leaving an apparently excellent situation for… what, exactly?
OK, for very good teams with championship aspirations. Understood.
But… why, exactly? That part isn’t quite as clear.
We know Allen did not go for the money, which makes his situation almost unprecedented. The Celtics offered him more money than Miami, but, like Welker, Allen may have felt a tad disrespected, given that the Celtics had tried to trade him before — and more than once. (They did, however, offer him a no-trade clause in their final push.) He had lost his starting job to a callow kid who couldn’t shoot, the ultimate indignity. His and Rajon Rondo’s relationship, once solid, had turned toxic.
So Allen decided that the positives (Miami weather, year-round golf, LeBron James) outweighed the extra money. To be fair, no one is going to have to stage a charity ball for Allen; he’s earned more than $100 million in his career. But athletes invariably chase the money. Allen didn’t. He chased another ring and, given the way things have turned out, he might as well find a jeweler in his new neighborhood.
Welker was, like Allen, a trouper. He fought back from a torn ACL; Allen gamely played with painful bone spurs in last year’s playoffs. Welker was a tireless worker, a fearless competitor, a little big man in a big-man’s game. He earned more than $9 million last season, but it was a salary that came with an asterisk: He was franchise-tagged, essentially meaning the Patriots didn’t want to lose him but also couldn’t agree with him on anything more than one year.
So, this time around, the Patriots decided not to use the franchise tag on Welker. That was interpreted by some as a positive development in that (a) Welker was deemed to be too valuable to let go without compensation and (b) that a new deal had to be in the works. According to a report by the redoubtable Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, the Patriots’ offer, with incentives, exceeded that of the Broncos.
So why didn’t Welker stay? Like Allen, he was thought to be comfortable in his New England skin. Allen had played five years with the Celtics, won a title and nearly won a second. Welker had played six years with the Patriots (five with Tom Brady) and nearly won two championships.
Allen set three-point records in Boston. Welker set receiving records in Foxborough. Both were beneficiaries of an all-for-one, one-for-all system led by All-Star teammates with Hall of Fame-caliber coaches. As Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers said before Allen bolted, “Why wouldn’t he want to stay?” If Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick ever talked, he probably would have said the same thing about Welker.
But Welker, like Allen, also felt enough of that dreaded ‘D’ word — disrespect — to seek out other alternatives. Despite the lavish salary in 2012, a franchise tag is not something NFL players like because it’s a one-year deal in a violent sport where the average player’s career lasts maybe four years. Welker thought the Patriots were taking him for granted. Allen thought the same thing about the Celtics.
Allen saw the Celtics chasing Jason Terry in free agency and thought to himself, “Why are they doing that when they still have me?” Welker may have caught wind of the Patriots readying to pounce on Danny Amendola, which they immediately did after he, Welker, left.
In both cases, the teams were doing their due diligence because free agency is unpredictable. But it also could have appeared to the players as if the teams were saying, “We’ll miss you — for maybe a nanosecond. Oh, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’’ Both players left for teams whose marquee players (LeBron James, Peyton Manning) are persona non grata in Boston.
Welker will return to Gillette Stadium with the Broncos next season, a game which promises to be every bit as eventful as Allen’s first visit to Boston with the Heat. To this day, the Celtics insist they never wanted Allen to leave, showed him the love and the money, and then watched him take his talents to South Beach.
The Patriots no doubt feel they did the same for Welker. Brady loved him. New England owner Bob Kraft said he wanted Welker to retire as a Patriot. When the boss says that, it usually means things are going to get done. Not this time.
Like Allen, who insists he will always remain a part-Celtic, Welker cannot purge the Patriot DNA from his system. It’s there and always will be. We just figured it was so ingrained that they both would ride into the sunset as New Englanders. They won’t. They both left for other — if not brighter — horizons. Welker can only hope his move west proves to be as successful as Allen’s move south.