That is, until now.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Patriots and Welker could still strike a new deal before he becomes a free agent.
Albert Breer and I have both heard that we can't rule out a long-term extension being reached before Welker hits free agency. The door is still open for him to get his money and retire a Patriot. What would a deal look like? In my mind—just trying to gain an understanding of the market—if Welker can get a five-year deal worth more than $8 million per year, that'd be impressive.
A five-year deal at the age of 33? I can think of a few other words for it besides "impressive." Of course, I've already made it clear that the Patriots should try to get more explosive on offense by moving on from Welker. Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe thinks it could be a three-year deal, which makes slightly more sense.
If they're going to reach a new deal, though, they have until March 12. That's the start of the new league year, when Welker is free to sign with any other team in the league; Ron Borges of the Boston Herald reported recently that the Patriots would not be using the franchise tag on the wideout, and it was at that point which it appeared Welker's days in New England were done.
It's been speculated that Tom Brady's contract extension could have come with a handshake agreement to pay Welker the money he needs to remain in New England. Welker has led the NFL in both targets (926) and receptions (671) over the past six years.
Even if the Patriots reach a deal with Welker, it's believed they could still be active in free agency or the draft to add another receiver, most likely an outside threat.
There are plenty of young, talented pass-catchers to be had in this year's class, all of whom could add that missing explosive element to the offense.
Here's some more news and analysis from around the AFC East.
Peter Damilatis and Gordon McGuinness of ProFootballFocus.com debate over whether guard Brandon Moore or defensive tackle Mike Devito is a more important free agent to the Jets this offseason.
Frank Giasone of TurnOnTheJets.com lists some potential Jets targets at cornerback in the draft.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 SportsRadio talks about some of the beleaguered quarterbacks who have drawn connections to the Bills.
Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post explains that the Dolphins don't have to go after a top-name, free-agent wide receiver to add speed and explosiveness to their offense.
Bleacher Report Dolphins featured columnist Alex Miglio delivers his seven-round, Twitter-based mock draft for the Dolphins.
New England Patriots
Zuri Berry of Boston.com lists five draft prospects that keep popping up on the radar.
B/R Patriots featured columnist Mike Dussault explains how the rest of the AFC East can catch up to the Patriots.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.