Wide receiver Wes Welker is set to earn $9.5 million via the franchise tag in 2012, unless he and the New England Patriots can agree to a contract extension before July 16, reports James Walker of ESPN.com.
According to Walker, the 31-year-old Welker will become a free agent after next season if the talks remain at a standstill. That is, unless the organization opts to hit him with the franchise tag once again.
Boston Globe writer Shalise Manza Young analyzed the contract discussions:
New England did offer Welker a two-year, fully guaranteed deal for $16 million late last season, but it was refused. If he were to play under the franchise tag in both '12 and '13, Welker would make nearly $21 million guaranteed.
New England would pay dearly by tendering Welker again next season, which makes a long-term deal more appealing. If that is the case, the Young indicates that the primary point of disagreement could be the amount of money within the third year of the contract. By the time a three-year deal would expire, Welker would be 34 years old and potentially on the decline.
This is not the first time the Patriots organization has been frugal with veteran talent. Long before Welker's contract dispute, other notables lost patience with New England's long-term reluctance. The list includes cornerbacks Ty Law and Asante Samuel and wide receiver Deion Branch—all of whom departed from Foxboro shortly thereafter.
Welker's future in a Patriots jersey is very much up in the air and the clock is ticking. One thing is for sure: Welker has been the go-to target of quarterback Tom Brady since he joined the Pats in 2007.
In five seasons with the New England, the 5'9", 185-pound slot receiver has caught 554 passes for 6,105 yards and 31 touchdowns. The former undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech has made four Pro Bowls during his tenure with New England and notched first-team All-Pro honors twice.
With a week left to reach an extension, both sides of the aisle will have to be flexible. Otherwise, the Patriots won't have any leverage once Welker hits the free agent market in 2013.