New England Patriots: 5 Reasons Not Giving Welker an Extension Was a Mistake

Eric SteitzAnalyst IIIAugust 15, 2012

New England Patriots: 5 Reasons Not Giving Welker an Extension Was a Mistake

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    The New England Patriots high-flying passing offense has been led by two familiar faces for the majority of the last five seasons: Wes Welker and Tom Brady.

    Welker joined the Patriots in 2007 and has been a fixture in the Pats lineup, and at the top of the receiving leader boards, since.

    The Pats acquired Welker in ’07 and signed him to a five-year, $18.1 million deal. That deal expired, and after this season he will be an unrestricted free agent—a bad situation for the Patriots.

    Welker has been an absolute pass-catching magnet for the Patriots. He has over 100 receptions in four of his five seasons with the Pats. The only season he didn’t hit the mark was 2010-11. He finished the season with 86 receptions.

    As the premier slot receiver in the NFL, Welker will get top-dollar on the free-agent market. That’s a decision the Patriots will have to live with after being unable to reach a long-term deal with the 31-year-old veteran.

    His current deal, as a franchise player for the Patriots, is a one-year tender worth $9.5 million. But, as previously mentioned, he will be an unrestricted free agent at year’s end.

    This is a bad situation for the Patriots, who could lose a significant part of their offense next offseason.

Production

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    The New England Patriots passing offense has ranked in the top five in the NFL in yards in three of the last five seasons. Wes Welker is a significant part of that.

    How significant?

    Welker has finished fifth or higher in the NFL in receptions in each of the last five seasons. That includes being the top receiver in the league in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

    Consider in March, Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions signed an eight-year deal worth $132 million.

    Johnson is arguably the best wide receiver in the league. But his numbers don’t even come close to Welker’s.

    Since Johnson joined the league in 2007-08, the same season Welker went to the Patriots, Welker has 188 more receptions.

    Welker also has 47 more first downs and 233 more yards than Johnson. To Megatron’s credit, he does have far more touchdowns (49 to 31) than Welker the last five seasons.

    Welker’s one-year tender with the Pats is worth $9.5 million. Johnson’s contract is worth nearly $16.5 million per year (based on the $132 million divided by eight years).

    The Patriots will have to pay a lot more than $9.5 million to keep Welker in New England. He’s a far better producer than he’s getting paid.

Percentage of Offense

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    Wes Welker’s production is unmatched in the NFL over the last half-decade, but that’s easy to do in a pass-happy offense, right?

    There has never been a shortage of receiving weapons in New England since Welker arrived.

     In the last five years, the Patriots have had Randy Moss, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez (pass-catching tight end), Rob Gronkowski (pass-catching tight end) and Jabar Gaffney surrounding Tom Brady—to name a few.

    Welker tops everyone on that list.

    Since the 2007-08 season, the New England Patriots have completed 1,865 passes. That’s an average of 373 completions per season.

    In that span, Welker has 554 receptions, an average of 110.8 receptions per season.

    With those numbers, Welker accounts for just short of 30 percent of the Patriots passing offense.

    Last season, Welker had 112 of the 403 Patriot completions.

    Emerging tight end stars Gronkowski and Hernandez had 90 and 79 receptions, respectively.

    The Patriots won’t miss that part of their offense?

Wide Receiver Contract Inflation

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    The amount of money wide receivers have reeled in over the last few seasons is surprisingly high.

    • Calvin Johnson has his eight-year, $132 million deal.
    • Arizona Cardinals’ receiver Larry Fitzgerald has an eight-year $120 million deal.
    • Steve Smith has a four-year $37.75 million deal with an option through 2016.

    These are some big contracts for some big-time receivers. But Welker produces more than they do.

    Assuming Welker has another average year for him, he will be one of the best receivers in the game. Simply put—if he is a better producer than the receivers above, he will likely garner a similar contract.

    The Patriots had their chance at a discounted Welker and couldn’t sign him to a long-term extension.

    Now, they may have to pay full price for a top receiver. That number seems to be growing exponentially in recent years.

Gronk and Hernandez

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    To the tune of Maroon 5, Wes Welker could be on the move like Jagger (It's a stretch, I know).

    The New England Patriots have two of the best tight ends in the game in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. They are young. Gronk just turned 23. Hernandez will turn 23 in November.

    And, they are talented.

    They could be the future of the Patriots offense and maybe that’s the plan.

    While tight ends are not slot receivers, typically in terms of speed and route running, they often have similar duties. Slots and tight ends are required to block and get first downs.

    The Patriots probably don’t need three players to fill similar roles, and Welker’s price-tag will be the highest of the three.

    But the Patriots have an interesting decision to make with these three players.

    Gronkowski just signed a six-year $54 million extension That basically locks Gronk up in New England for the rest of the decade.

    The Patriots haven’t offered a long-term extension for Hernandez, yet. With two years left on his rookie contract, talks aren’t imminent, but they have to be in the back of Robert Craft’s mind.

    Currently, there are no talks of an extension with Hernandez, and that could open the door for Welker to get a new deal.

    Rumor has it that Hernandez is seeking the receiver franchise tag, which could drastically change the layout of the Pats, and could have big implications on Welker.

    The two tight ends, if they continue to play at a high level, could take up a significant portion of the salary cap. Add Tom Brady to the mix and the Patriots will need to take part in serious monetary discussions.

What's Welker Worth?

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    Wes Welker set career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns last season, and it doesn’t look like he will be slowing down soon.

    The question is: Can the Patriots pay Welker what he’s worth and still maintain their nearly-trademarked depth?

    The Patriots’ money issues start with quarterback Tom Brady, who will be issued around $22 million next season.

    Welker could be offered another tag worth $11.4 million, but that would commit a significant portion of the nearly $100 million salary cap for the Patriots.

    That’s a number that could scare the Pats away from re-signing the beloved Welker.

    ESPN writer James Walker believes this will be Welker’s final season in New England.

    If he does leave New England, I’m sure it will be done with dignity and pride. Welker and owner Bob Kraft have a fairly solid relationship, and the contract talks don’t seem to have affected that (via NFL.com).

    That would be a heartbreaker for some Patriots fans, but I’m sure there are a few teams out there that would be happy to include Welker’s services, if they can afford him.