New England's dilemma
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - All the Advil in the world won't help Bill Belichick get over this headache.

Solving the Patriots' offseason puzzle is like trying to answer the math problem from "Good Will Hunting."

Where's Matt Damon when you need him?

Where to begin? Pint-sized wideout Wes Welker would probably be a good place to start.

The five-time Pro Bowler is finally a free agent and it will be up to Belichick and owner Bob Kraft to decide if Welker is worth signing to a long- term deal.

Welker's numbers are exquisite. His 672 catches are the most in team history and he's not far off from Stanley Morgan's franchise receiving yards record (10,352 for Morgan versus 7,459 for Welker).

The undrafted Texas Tech alum has caught at least 100 passes in five out of the last six seasons with 37 touchdowns over that span. His impressive 2012 campaign (118 grabs, 1,354 yards, six TDs) didn't do anything to lower his value on the open market.

If New England slaps the franchise tag on Welker like they did last season, the 31-year-old will earn $11.4 million in 2013. Ron Borges from the Boston Globe insists that a salary of that magnitude would put Welker well out of New England's price range, so don't expect that to happen.

That leaves the Pats with a few options. Dwayne Bowe (59 catches, 801 yards, three TD in 2012), Greg Jennings (36 receptions, 366 yards, four TD in eight games) and Mike Wallace (64 grabs, 836 yards, eight TD) should all be available this offseason, though they'll probably be looking for just as much dough as Welker.

If "affordable" is the adjective the Patriots are looking for, Danny Amendola and Brian Hartline might be a little more their speed.

Amendola (63 catches, 666 yards, three scores) was Sam Bradford's top target in St. Louis this past season and is known for playing out of the slot, just like Welker. He could have 1,000-yard potential but health is a concern for the promising 27 year-old (missed 20 games due to injury the past two seasons).

Hartline doesn't present any immediate health risks but it's unknown whether his stellar 2012 campaign (career-high 74 catches, 1,083 yards) was a fluke or something he can actually sustain over the next several seasons. The Pats would be rolling the dice if they inked Hartline to anything more than a two- year contract.

And then there's the elephant in the room, Percy Harvin. The Vikings receiver isn't a free agent but his turbulent relationship with coach Leslie Frazier has him on the outs in Minnesota.

Harvin (62 catches, 677 yards, three TD in nine games last season) is right in the middle of his prime and he's the type of challenge Belichick lives for as a coach. Belichick has made a career out of transforming troubled stars and making them play "the Patriots' way." Corey Dillon and Randy Moss were both able to resurrect their careers in New England.

But just because Moss and Dillon found success in Foxborough doesn't mean that every headcase does. Chad Ochocinco never found his footing in his one season under Belichick's leadership (15 catches, 276 yards) and the Patriots pulled the plug on Albert Haynesworth after only six games in 2011. Even Moss wore out his welcome eventually (traded to Minnesota halfway through the 2010 season).

It's also unclear who the Patriots would give up if they pursued a trade. New England has made a game out of stockpiling draft picks in past seasons but this year, the Pats only have four selections. With so little margin for error, the Patriots might choose to hold on to their remaining picks instead of dangling them in a deal for Harvin.

Though Welker is a fan favorite, New England's biggest hole isn't in the receiving corps. Even if Welker, Julian Edelman and Brandon Lloyd all walk away this offseason, the team still has tight ends Rob Gronkowski (55 catches, 790 yards, 11 TD) and Aaron Hernandez (51 receptions, 483 yards, five TD), who are essentially wide receivers.

Welker's departure would allow New England to bulk up on defense. The secondary has been the Patriots' biggest weakness the past two years and signing a top-flight free agent like Ed Reed or Charles Woodson could be a game-changer. With Aqib Talib, Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington all questionable to return because of free agency (not to mention that rookie sensation Alfonzo Dennard is serving a prison sentence), the secondary is something New England will certainly have to address this offseason.

It looks like you have your work cut out for you, Bill. Time to roll up those sleeves and get moving.

Belichick doesn't wear sleeves? Well, you knew what I meant.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at

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