Both sides of the equation hit a wall in extension talks this offseason. As a result, Welker will earn $9.51 million in 2012 before becoming an unrestricted free agent, per Spotrac.com.
Welker may be back working hard in training camp, but the ripple effect from his contract fallout will not dissipate.
With that looming overhead, what does it all mean for the Patriots?
Here are five ways the team will be affected.
Once the 2013 free-agency frenzy arrives next March, Wes Welker will have a slew of suitors eyeing his services. Needless to say, the Patriots' hierarchy will have to make a bold decision.
The Patriots' ownership, head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio have three options with Welker: re-tag him, re-sign him or let him walk.
Welker signed a five-year, $18.1 million deal with New England back in 2007, according to Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe. In 2012, he will be paid more than half of that previous pact and earn top-five receiver money.
If the Patriots slap Welker with the tag again next offseason, he will see pay hike up to $11.4 million, cites ESPN.com's James Walker. Welker might refuse to sign another tender if he feels slighted. At that point, an extension would be a more cost-effective move.
The 31-year-old Welker hasn't shown any signs of regression, but New England is non-committal when it comes to older talent. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss offered this sentiment in a Patriots mailbag:
The team might end up paying more in the end, but it would be managing the risk more conservatively if things head in the wrong direction.
The franchise tag may ensure Welker fully-guaranteed money, but it does not guarantee him the long-term security that he could find on the open market. If he suffers a serious injury like the torn ACL and MCL he did in January of 2010, what would he have to show for it?
The Patriots' reluctance to reach an extension with Welker may come back to bite the organization next year if another team shows him the money.
But for now, retaining Welker for the immediate future bodes well for the Pats' financial flexibility.
Randy Moss's contract displeasure in 2010 did not end well.
Contract disputes are like kickers and long snappers. The less they're talked about, the better.
The Patriots have handled their share of contract distractions over the years. The most memorable of which was Randy Moss's postgame venting on Sept. 6 of 2010. Just a month later, Moss was traded to the Minnesota Vikings, according to ESPN.com.
Moss and Welker are vastly different personalities, but they share a common bond when it comes to contract turmoil.
In May, Welker expressed discontent over his contract status to the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian:
“There have been talks, but nothing that’s brightened anything at all,” Welker said. “It’s actually gotten worse.”
Welker simply answered the question honestly, but it didn't shine himself or the organization in a positive light. Now in training camp, the four-time Pro Bowler is saying all the right things, via WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia:
“It’s good to be back. It seems like just yesterday we were just playing. It’s just exciting. It’s fun to be out here with your teammates and getting better and getting ready for the new season.”
Welker has set his sights on the football season, but the air won't be cleared until he puts the pen to the paper.
Patrick Chung is one of the notable 2013 free agents on the Patriots' roster.
Wes Welker's contract may headline the Patriots' 2013 free-agent class, yet he's not the only one in line for a new deal.
Extending an over-30 wideout may be a risk when there are younger players awaiting a lucrative pay day.
A 2009 second-round draft pick, Patrick Chung has started 22 games at free and strong safety for New England. He will earn over $1.1 million this season before becoming a restricted free agent, per Spotrac.com.
Since joining the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Kyle Love has solidified the defensive tackle position next to Vince Wilfork. The Mississippi State product started 13 games last season and will be a restricted free agent after earning $540,000 this year, via Spotrac.com.
New England's starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was selected in Round 2 of the 2009 draft. He is set to make over $1 million this year before reaching unrestricted free agent status, cites Spotrac.com.
Aaron Hernandez: 2014 Unrestricted Free Agent
New England could also put a priority on extending tight end Aaron Hernandez. The 2010 fourth-round pick has outplayed his rookie deal by totaling 124 catches for 1,473 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns in two NFL seasons.
With the exception of bonus incentives, the 22-year-old will make a base salary of $540,000 in 2012 and $575,000 in 2013, courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Could Julian Edelman step into the slot?
Wes Welker is irreplaceable, but someone would have to man the slot if the unthinkable occurs. With that in mind, could an incumbent fill the void? It's a matter the Patriots must assess.
In terms of New England's receiving pool, Julian Edelman may be the pick of the litter.
Edelman is not a 100-catch, 1,000-yard receiver, but he's no slouch either. The former Kent State quarterback reeled in 37 balls for 359 yards and a touchdown as a rookie in 2009.
When Welker's knee gave out during Week 17 of that season against the Houston Texans, Edelman stepped in—nabbing 10 catches for 103 yards. Just a week later during the divisional playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Edelman made six receptions for 44 yards and two touchdowns (per Pro-Football-Reference).
But Edelman has been seldom used at wideout since. Between 2010 and 2011, the swingman accumulated just 11 receptions for 120 yards. The emergence of the two-tight-end set hasn't helped him stay relevant on the offensive side of the ball, even though he has the tools to make an impact.
Running underneath routes and exploiting defenses after the catch is key for any slot receiver. According to Yahoo.com statistics, both Welker and Edelman boast a career average of 5.8 yards after the catch.
Edelman could be following Welker's footsteps as their play is strikingly similar. His ability to take advantage of soft coverage is precisely what makes him a logical successor if doomsday arrives.
Welker has everything to play for this year.
Entering another contract year, Wes Welker should pick up right where he left off last season: 122 catches, 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. After all, he hasn't had an easy go of it since February.
Regardless of whether the blame is fair, Welker has the proverbial "chip" on his shoulder heading into 2012.
And of course, Welker will be showcasing his abilities for prospective employers—barring he doesn't return for 2013. The 5'9", 190-pound route runner is out there trying to prove his worth.
Welker restated his focus for this season, via WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia:
“I don’t like to look back too much, and try to look forward and think that I have so much more that I can prove and conquer out there, and I plan on working hard and do what it takes to go out and do it. To be consistent, I have to stay consistent so I have to keep on playing well.
Look for the former undrafted free agent to silence his critics during the upcoming campaign. He's got more than just one reason to produce.