The Patriots have until Monday to place their franchise tag on Welker and if they choose not, then Welker will be free to test the open waters of free agency.
However, Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston believes that it will not reach that point, and it's expected that the Patriots will place their franchise tag on Welker.
Once the tag is placed on Welker, we can only assume that the two parties will continue in contract talks and both will search for a long-term deal that will lock up Welker for a while while remaining a team-friendly deal.
Aside from Welker's infamous drop in Super Bowl XLVI, Welker had an incredible season in 2011, as he reeled in 122 receptions for 1,569 yards while scoring nine touchdowns.
The Patriots cannot expect to let Welker walk and find another guy to replace his remarkable production—it would be nearly impossible.
I truly believe that Welker is the perfect Patriot, and he is Tom Brady's go-to-man. At this point of Brady's career, the Patriots need to do whatever it takes to equip Brady with the highest quality of weapons—and retaining Welker would be doing so.
Be sure to check out Tony Santorsa's blog: PatriotsPlus