Welker, 31, agreed to a two-year deal with the Broncos, giving quarterback Peyton Manning a target who led the National Football League in receptions three of the past six seasons.
The move yesterday made Denver an 11-2 favorite to win the next NFL championship, up from 8-1 a day earlier, according to Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com. The Patriots, who had been favored at 6-1, slipped to 25-4. The San Francisco 49ers are second in the odds at 23-4.
“Excited to have Wes join the Broncos,” John Elway, the team’s executive vice president of football operations, said on his Twitter account. “His production and toughness will be a great asset.”
Welker was one of the top unrestricted free agents available and headed to Denver on the same day Reggie Bush agreed on a four-year contract with the Detroit Lions, safety Dashon Goldson moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and kicker Josh Brown joined the New York Giants.
In acquiring Welker, the Broncos add to a receiving corps that includes Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker while taking away one of the most productive players from a top rival in the American Football Conference. Welker led the Patriots in receptions each of the past five years and teamed with quarterback Tom Brady to average 112 catches a season since joining the Patriots in 2007.
The Broncos didn’t disclose financial terms of Welker’s contract, which came a day after former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace joined the Miami Dolphins with a five-year contract the Miami Herald said is worth between $60 million and $65 million. Wallace, who scored 32 touchdowns in four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, will bolster a receiving corps that had an NFL-low three touchdowns last season.
The Broncos also agreed to terms with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, 26, who had spent the previous four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bush, 28, led the Dolphins in rushing the past two seasons and was the first top free-agent running back to sign. The Arizona Cardinals followed by signing former Steeler Rashard Mendenhall to a one-year deal, while the Tennessee Titans signed ex-New York JetShonn Green for $10 million over three years, according to ESPN.
The Lions went 4-12 last season, tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the worst record in the National Football Conference. While their offense ranked second in the NFL in passing yardage behind quarterback Matthew Stafford and All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson, Detroit was 23rd among 32 teams in yards rushing.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here, to bring a balanced attack and take some of the pressure off Matthew and Calvin,” Bush said at a news conference.
Bush rushed for 986 yards and six touchdowns last year after a career-high 1,086 yards in 2011. The second pick in the 2006 draft, Bush started all but one game for Miami the past two seasons and caught 78 passes for 588 yards and three scores.
The Lions didn’t disclose financial terms of Bush’s contract, though Pro Football Talk said he’ll get $16 million over four years. Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, Beanie Wells and Ahmad Bradshaw are among free-agent running backs still available. Mendenhall, 25, replaces Wells in Arizona after leading the Steelers in rushing three of the past four years, while Greene, 27, joins three-time Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson in the Titans’ backfield after rushing for more than 1,000 yards for the Jets each of the past two seasons.
The Giants’ signing of Brown probably signals the end of Lawrence Tynes’s stay with the team after six years and two Super Bowl titles.
Brown, 33, appeared in four games for the Cincinnati Bengals last year after an injury to Mike Nugent and made 11 of 12 field-goal attempts. He was beaten out by Nick Folk for the New York Jets’ kicking job before the season.
Brown has made 81.3 percent of 284 career field-goal attempts, while Tynes -- an unrestricted free agent -- has made 81.5 percent. Tynes, 34, sent the Giants to two Super Bowls by making overtime field goals that won NFC championship games following the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Tennessee also signed offensive lineman Andy Levitre, a four-year starter in Buffalo, to a six-year, $46.8 million contract that includes a $10.5 million signing bonus, according to Pro Football Talk.
Goldson left the NFC-champion 49ers after six seasons to sign a five-year contract in Tampa Bay that ESPN says is worth $41.25 million, with $22 million guaranteed.
The 49ers signed defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey to a two- year contract, while the Steelers re-signed long-snapper Greg Warren to a one-year deal, the teams said.
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