Conspiracy theory: Will Pats trade Welker?

I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories. In fact, I mostly ignore them.

But I was particularly intrigued by one theory this week from veteran CBSSports.com columnist Mike Freeman. He suggests the mysterious reduction in playing time for Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker could be a sign that the New England Patriots are preparing for a trade.

"What might be happening here. ...is that the Patriots aren't phasing Welker out. They are preparing to trade him. Several league sources said this is more than some remote possibility. This might actually be a probability and the team is seeing if Edelman could fit into Welker's shoes should the team trade him.

"This is more the Patriots Way than a phasing out. A sort of stashing of Welker -- and by trading Welker, they would have total control of his destination city. The Patriots traded Randy Moss, and trading Welker before the Oct. 30 deadline would be very Bill Belichick."

Hmmmm. This is an interesting thought, to say the least.

For starters, Welker has one year left on his contract. I've written several times that extensions for tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are strong indicators Welker is not coming back in 2013. There's only so much cap room to spend on offensive skill players, and Gronkowski, Hernandez and Tom Brady are taking up most of the pie. If this is Welker's last year in New England, why not get value instead of letting him walk in the offseason?

Also, as Freeman mentioned, the Patriots traded Moss when it was unexpected. New England traded Richard Seymour when it was unexpected. Would they be above trading Welker if the price is right?

Finally, playing Julian Edelman could be an early test to see if Edelman can fill Welker's role for a lot less money, Freeman writes. Welker is making $9.5 million this season. If Edelman struggles, the Patriots don't have to make the Welker trade and can always go back to the way it was.

Keep in mind that these are just conspiracy theories. On the surface, it would be surprising if New England traded Welker. But this has been a strange saga from the beginning where you cannot completely rule anything out.