If you wanted the New England Patriots to be nice to Wes Welker in their contract negotiations, chances are you've been disappointed by Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and the rest of the powers that be in the team's front office.
If you wanted them to be kind, warm, generous and giving, you've been let down.
But if you wanted the Patriots to handle this the right way, if you wanted them to do what was best for them down the road, you have to acknowledge that, once again, the guys in Foxborough are acing their test.
The Patriots have handled these contract discussions professionally and objectively, and they've done it with the player on the team who's best at bringing about subjective feelings. Everybody roots for Welker, the Patriots included.
But giving Welker that big contract, the one he's asking for (and the one he's earned, in all honesty), wouldn't be the best move for the team.
And to their credit, New England isn't taking the bait.
The Patriots have proven themselves to be savvy financial negotiators, and they don't miss it when they have the leverage. Welker is a hell of a player, and if this were 2009, this contract would have been drawn up weeks ago.
But this is 2012. Welker's older and the offense has evolved.
In 2009, Welker was the offense. The Patriots had no reliable tight ends or running backs, and Randy Moss' skill set and moments of brilliance were diminishing. That left Welker as the only target Tom Brady could rely on every down, and his importance was made clear when he was hurt in the season finale and the offense broke down into an impotent mess in the first playoff game against Baltimore.
That's not the case anymore. Rob Gronkowski is now the indispensable weapon, and he was paid as such. Aaron Hernandez is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. So is Brandon Lloyd.
Welker is one of the best receivers in the game, but the offense can function without him. That wasn't the case before, but it is now.
Reports had Welker looking for $21 million in guaranteed money and the Patriots offering $15 million. Guaranteed money often makes for a formidable sticking point, and if the Patriots have their budget and cap situation for 2012 and down the road worked out with a $15 million commitment going to a 31-year-old slot receiver who makes a living getting blasted over the middle, then good for them for adhering to their guidelines.
The Patriots know they're not losing anything this way. They've got a driven Welker going into this year. This isn't the situation the Jets were in a few years ago with Darrelle Revis, or that the Jaguars and Steelers are in now with Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Wallace.
Those teams needed, or need, to figure out the money matters in order to get their star players on the field. Welker's going to play, and he's going to play well. That speaks to his high level of character, but also to his business smarts. He has to if he wants to strike it rich next year, whether he does so in New England or somewhere else.
And the Patriots shouldn't give up on Welker signing that next deal with them. Maybe it won't be for the cash he was seeking this offseason, but there should be room for compromise. The Patriots love Welker in the offense, and Welker loves catching passes from Brady. The lines of communication, as soon as they're able to open up again, should be freed up with both sides eager to talk again.
There's still chance for a happy ending. It just wasn't to be this season. Maybe the Patriots didn't play nice with Welker, but they did play smart.
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