But the 4:00 p.m. ET deadline came and went without a peep from either side, and now, Welker will play 2012 under the franchise tag.
The compensation is reasonable under the tag; the Patriots wanted to pay Welker $8 million per year for two years when they first approached the table, but Welker was seeking a two-year deal paying him "north of $20 million," according to Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com. A cool $9.5 million for 2012 is a happy medium this year, with Welker coming out on the plus side of that middle ground. Unfortunately, that is only for the dreaded one-year franchise tag.
If Welker has another solid season, he could get a long-term offer next year, or he could get tagged once again for $11.41 million. That would combine for the figure north of $20 million, which Welker is seeking.
Welker's production and unparalleled commitment to the team make it an especially tough PR situation for the Patriots front office. They are within their rights to be concerned about the age of their 31-year-old wideout, but he showed no signs of slowing down last year and no reasonable cause for concern in regards to the repaired ACL and knee that underwent the knife in February 2010.
This is nothing new to the Patriots, though, who have dealt with plenty of tough franchise tag situations in the past. Those past situations, however, beg the question of why Welker didn't request not to be tagged again in 2013.
Does Welker deserve a long-term deal? That depends on how the Patriots feel about his potential for future production. But, ultimately, it comes down to how he plays this year.
There are three possible outcomes:
- Welker has another standout season (as he has had every season with full health), likely resulting another franchise tag next offseason;
- Welker's productivity declines or the tread on the tires runs thin, which would reduce his value on the open market and set the stage for a return on a long-term deal in 2013; or
- the Patriots allow Welker to walk next year regardless of his performance.
Either way, the Patriots are protected against worst-case scenarios and also avoid a bidding war for one of the most productive receivers in the NFL over the past five seasons, but neither of the first two situations are particularly Patriot-friendly.
Why would the Patriots re-tag Welker when they could have had him for cheaper on a long-term deal? And it's unlikely that they'd re-sign him to a long-term deal if it looks like the tires are falling off.
It's even less likely that he performs well and comes back on a long-term deal; if Welker has another standout year in 2012, he's not going to want to sign a team-friendly deal in 2013 any more than he did this year. That much is obvious, with the two sides around $6 million apart in negotiations, according to Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe.
Another reason the Patriots might be low-balling Welker on a long-term deal is Brady's consistency and relative success with unknown receivers. While those receivers have done well with Brady, Welker redefined the slot receiver position.
From a business perspective, the Patriots made the only right choice. It leaves them in complete control of the situation, regardless of the outcome. At this point, the only thing Welker can control is his production. If it remains on par with his production over the past five years, he'll have no problem getting the money and the years he is looking for.
But it won't likely happen with the Patriots.