Could 2012 Be Wes Welker's Final Season with the New England Patriots?

Tony SantorsaSenior Writer IIJuly 16, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24:  Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots runs past  Yeremiah Bell #37 of the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarterof New England's 27-24 win at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Monday's 4 p.m. deadline has come and gone and there will be no long-term contract for New England Patriot Wes Welker.

The 31-year-old wide receiver will play the 2012 season under the $9.5 million franchise tag. 

Over the course of the offseason, there weren't any concrete reports of Welker and the Patriots making any progress in a contract extension, so with the deadline passing, it was expected that there would be no agreement.

Welker's future with New England actually remains up in the air, despite the fact that he'll be with the team in 2012. Ultimately, Welker's future with the Patriots depends on how well he plays this upcoming season.

If Welker performs well, the Patriots will likely be forced into a bidding war with a handful of other teams for his services—which could result in Welker signing a massive, multi-million dollar contract.

However, if Welker fails to perform to the level that we're accustomed to, then the Patriots could bring Welker back at a much smaller contract than the one that they would have signed him to this offseason. 

Many might question Welker's durability, as he's 31 years old and had reconstructive knee surgery in early 2010—but other than that, this concern is asinine. 

Over Welker's five seasons with the Patriots, he has missed a total of just three regular season games—which is remarkable considering the amount of hits he takes. 

For a guy that is 5'9" and 185 pounds, you would probably expect a few more injuries than we have seen over the past five seasons. 

Welker might be 31, but in the terms of his "NFL age," he is much younger.

Prior to Welker's time with New England, he spent four seasons with the San Diego Chargers and the Miami Dolphins—but he wasn't used the way in which the Patriots use him. Welker's playing time was almost nothing compared to what it is right now with New England. 

Some might say that Welker is only five years into his NFL career, as his first four seasons were spent at most as a role player.

The start of training camp is just a couple weeks away, and Welker might be embarking on his final campaign with the Patriots, as 2012 could be a farewell tour for the Texas Tech product.

We have no reason to believe that Welker's stats will decrease this upcoming season, as he's been a consistent option for quarterback Tom Brady since 2007. 

Welker has caught 100-plus balls in four of his five seasons with the Patriots and has reeled in 1,000-plus receiving yards in four of his five seasons as well. 

New England is taking somewhat of a risk with Welker, as he could have yet another stellar season. But there could be something that Bill Belichick and the Patriots know that we don't.


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