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If the Patriots and Wes Welker couldn't come to an agreeable contract last offseason, why should we hold out hope that this year will be different?
Welker once again was a vital cog in the Pats attack in 2012, and has already caught 110 balls while becoming the first player in NFL history with five seasons of at least 100 receptions.
There were many who believe the Patriots wanted to trade Welker earlier this season when they started the year off with Julian Edelman playing many snaps in spots Welker usually played. However once Edelman and Aaron Hernandez went down with injuries, the Pats were left with few options and Welker was back as Mr. Reliable.
It was surprising and disappointing that the Pats and Welker could not get a deal done last offseason. And really not much has changed. The Pats could franchise him again, but that would cost another $9.5-plus million, depending on how much it goes up this year. Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe wrote:
One of the major sticking points between the sides was a third year for Welker. New England was willing to do a two-year contract — and, in fact, had offered Welker a fully guaranteed, two-year, $16 million deal during the 2011 season, which was rejected — but was hesitant to go beyond two years, likely citing Welker’s age and potential durability issues as an undersized receiver who suffered an ACL tear in January 2010.
It's unlikely that Welker is going to suddenly take a deal that he wouldn't have taken last year.
But the option of franchising Welker again has to be on the table for the Patriots. They were willing to pay him $16 million for two seasons. How do they feel about potentially $20 million? Mike Reiss wrote this for ESPNBoston.com:
If Welker is tagged at $11.4 million, and you combine that with quarterback Tom Brady's approximate $22 million cap hit as a result of his 2012 restructuring, that's about 27 percent of the team's cap space on two players -- not the type of cap distribution the Patriots prefer because it affects the ability to build depth.
Welker has been banged up all year, but he's gutted it out. He does have quite a few drops, but otherwise at this point Welker is still pretty much uncoverable and in mostly perfect sync with Tom Brady.
They let Brady's favorite target get away once before with Deion Branch in 2006 and it very possibly cost them another Super Bowl. Welker does have some miles on him and he won't hold up forever, but right now he doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
There are plenty of reasons to say the Patriots need Welker. But there are also plenty of reasons to say they'll be able to overcome losing him. Namely Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and the talented young backfield, and a pretty solid X wide receiver in Brandon Lloyd who has developed some chemistry with Tom Brady.
There's no question, the Wes Welker storyline will be the biggest one to follow this offseason.