The deadline to sign franchised players to long-term deals instead of allowing them to go through the season on the tag looms large today.
New Orleans QB Drew Brees has been officially signed and Bears RB Matt Forte does not appear to be too far behind. Yet, as the 4 p.m. deadline approaches, there is a conspicuous lack of buzz emitting from New England concerning a deal for star receiver Wes Welker, with most considering it unlikely an agreement will be reached.
The Patriots and Welker are reportedly $6 million apart in negotiations. Welker stands to earn $9.515 million this year on the franchise tag and would earn 120% of this if he were to be tagged next year. He accordingly wants a deal guaranteeing him at least the $21 million he would earn on the tag over the next two years. The Patriots, however, want him for less and have refused to budge.
In the past, the Pats have been accused of being stingy when handing out contracts, but if one looks at the deals handed to Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins, it becomes apparent that this is not true.
The Patriots are simply a team with a very well defined concept of a player's value. And from those terms in looking at this situation, it is easy to see why they are reticent to give Welker what he wants.
Welker is an undersized 31-year-old slot receiver who has previously torn his ACL. He can't stretch the field, block, play outside or be relied on in jump ball situations.
He plays exclusively in a position in which players historically go downhill very quickly due to age. TJ Houshmandzadeh, for example, got a $40 million contract off Seattle when he was Welker's age and did nothing to justify it.
Are the Patriots right not to cave?
Welker's injury history is also a worry when one considers that Antonio Bryant was signed by the Bengals to a $28 million deal, paid $8 million in guaranteed money and then cut in camp without ever seeing the field.
He also plays a position where the Patriots could likely pick up a younger replacement who could do a similar job—probably not to the same level but to a high level nonetheless—for far cheaper. Danny Amendola is the first name that springs to mind as a man that had 85 catches two seasons ago with a rookie QB. Is Welker really worth more than twice what Amendola would need to be paid?
Indeed, it is also prescient to note that both Amendola and Welker were undrafted players, as was Giants slot sensation Victor Cruz. The Patriots could well be able to fill the Welker-shaped void at the back end of next year's draft or with a UFA for next to nothing at all.
There is also the issue of Julian Edelman, another slot receiver already on the Patriots roster who moves remarkably like Wes, has shown in the past flashes of real potential and who could well be the heir to the Welker throne.
Finally, there is the question of value. While Welker showed flashes of excellence in Miami, he has only truly excelled in the Bill Belichick system with Brady at QB. It is likely the Patriots are of the view that, if they were to let him hit the market at the end of this season instead of franchising him again next year, he would see he was overestimating his value.
The truth is that, although he is a great player, there is a big question as to how much of this greatness is attributable to the perennially otherworldly offense in New England.
I love Wes Welker. He is a hard working, dependable guy who fits the Patriots' system perfectly, has had great production with Brady and who deserves to get paid. But he has to be reasonable.
The salary cap projects to be flat next year and, with Brady carrying a $22 million cap charge next season, there is no way the Pats can give Welker the type of money he wants, especially with free agency also looming for Aaron Hernandez, a far younger and far less replaceable player.
Welker needs to realize that, while his production does warrant him getting a nice contract, he does not have the leverage to hold the Patriots to ransom for a ridiculous figure. He should show the initiative, team-friendly attitude and self awareness to meet the Pats in the middle.
If he doesn't, this will likely be his last year at Gillette Stadium.