New England Patriots: Team Needs to Agree Long-Term with Wes Welker

Drew BonifantAnalyst IIMarch 5, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:   Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots congratulates teammate BenJarvus Green-Ellis #42 after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens during their AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

According to reports, the inevitable has happened. As has been speculated for weeks, Wes Welker has been hit with the franchise tag by the New England Patriots, and he will be coming back for the 2012 season.

It's not good enough—there needs to be another inevitability. An extension for Welker needs to be a matter of when. Not if.

A long-term contract was considered a given throughout the season, especially as Welker was putting up unrivaled numbers early on in the season. It's hardly that now, as the Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young reports that the sides are hardly seeing eye to eye.

And when the Patriots don't agree with a player's demands, that usually means a lot of headaches, a lot of resentment and a lot of frustration—and no deal.

It needs to be different this time. The Patriots need this player, and not just for one year. This can't be Logan Mankins Part II. The Patriots need to commit to Welker, for reasons both on the field and off.

Start with his on-field value, which is the easiest case to make for Welker. He's one of the most productive and reliable receivers in the league. He's a human first down, the best in the league at moving the chains, and he's there on every snap.

He's exceeded 100 catches four times, which would normally draw a receiver some attention, yet you can count on one hand the number of times a team took Welker out of the game plan. Tom Brady can go to him whenever he wants, and even when he doesn't, the option is always there. It'd be hard to imagine Brady being happy if No. 83 were taken away.

But aside from his stats and numbers, this just isn't the player you give something as reviled as the franchise tag. This is a player who made an incredibly quick and full recovery from a torn ACL, a player who swallowed his pride and didn't speak out after being pointlessly benched at the start of an AFC divisional playoff game against the Jets for a joke at a press conference.

This is a player who said he didn't deserve a new contract because a Pro Bowl season didn't meet his expectations. This is a player who in one Super Bowl was the only member of his offense to play up to his capability and in another accepted all of the blame for a painful loss the entire team played a role in determining.

In other words, he's been the perfect Patriot. And he's the one New England goes to war with? He's the one the team gives the un-commiting commitment known as the franchise tag?

This could just be a means to a perfectly amicable end. The last two players given the franchise tag by the Patriots, Mankins and Vince Wilfork, got their money and well-earned contracts down the road. The tag just bought time.

That's fine if that's the plan with Welker; it isn't if it's keeping him on the team against his will and inviting anger and holdout scenarios in the months to come.

That would look bad, and it would cost the Patriots. New England hates being called cheap or any allusions to its tight purse strings. While Randy Moss's Week 1 rant was the most famous development of his dance out of town, it was his offseason slam of the Patriots' fiscal practices that caused a rift that was never really repaired.

The Patriots went to great lengths to fight that perception, locking up Wilfork, Mankins, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and linebacker Jerod Mayo. But if there's a feud developing between Welker and the Patriots, it'll bring the team back down in the public eye.

The Patriots made themselves better for 2012 Monday, but this can't be the only Welker news this offseason. There need to be negotiations, there needs to be progress and there needs to be a deal, one that Welker and the Patriots are happy with.

All things considered, that's the best move for everyone.