First things first. Of course it was a joke.
Wes Welker's primary motivation for playing brilliantly is not to "stick it in Bill's face."
But it defies logic to think Welker's pride wasn't hurt at the start of this season. No matter the logic behind tapering off Welker's reps and targets, it was an affront to have him begin the season as a spectator.
And, Week 2 offered even more of the same until Aaron Hernandez got hurt.
If one exceeds their designated role for five seasons, as Welker did, then gets stood up at the bargaining table, as Welker was, you're going to be a little cynical. And if you give up your leverage for the good of the team and then have to watch the succession plan unfold while you stand on the sidelines, you're going to be irked. Or blind with rage.
Now, because of the Hernandez injury and the hand injury to Welker's apprentice Julian Edelman, he's the hub again and he's tied for second in the NFL with 38 catches. He's been thrown to 47 times in the last four weeks.
Who wouldn't feel a little vindicated? Who wouldn't find it hard to resist pointing out to management that you were the best when they tried to replace you and you're the best still?
So that's what Welker did. With a wink and a smile.
Now, there are two ways the Patriots and Bill Belichick can go with this. They can get indignant and let their pride run wild. They can put Wes back in his place by benching, scolding or -- when Hernandez returns -- freezing him out. They can show them who's boss and make sure he never forgets it.
But haven't they done that enough? Haven't they already shown Welker they have him by the stones by the way they treated him this offseason?
(Yes, I know 9.5 million franchise tender is a lot of money; let's not pretend the NFL is the real world.)
The guy signed his tender on time, got to minicamp and training camp and clearly worked his ass off to keep himself in condition while the Patriots showed little urgency to get a contract extension done despite promises that they would.
Welker knows who's boss. He lives it every day knowing that, if he blows an ACL in practice or a game, his future is murky as hell despite what he's done. He knows he hasn't banked as much money as he should have despite his production and that the reason for that is standing on the sidelines in a sweatshirt.
Welker knows that, in the end, he's a widget. And what he said Sunday reflected the frustration of that reality.
Which brings us to the second way the Patriots and Belichick can go with this. They can smile, say they love Wes and his sense of humor and leave him the hell alone.
Welker took a two-second opportunity to save some face on Sunday with a joke probably best left unsaid.
Now the ball is in Belichick's court. He can get indignant and prideful over a public affront. Or he can let it go for the good of the team.