Wes Welker, Patriots Fit Too Perfectly to Let Super Bowl Drop Affect Contract Extension

Wes Welker, Patriots Fit Too Perfectly to Let Super Bowl Drop Affect Contract ExtensionWes Welker was guilty of not hauling in a spectacular catch to help the Patriots win Super Bowl XLVI.

But, you know what makes him great? He'll make the next one, and it will happen in a New England uniform.

There's no realistic scenario that involves Welker skipping town this offseason, as his contract expires for the first time since joining the Patriots in 2007. The two sides want to remain together too passionately to allow it to happen any other way, as Welker and Patriots owner Robert Kraft have each said in recent weeks.

The Patriots have exclusive negotiating rights with Welker through March 13, when free agency begins, so they can come to terms on an agreement at any point. If things get hairy, the Patriots can place the franchise tag on Welker from Feb. 20 through March 5, which gives the organization total control in the negotiating process.

But it shouldn't get to that point — the power struggle that causes organizations, players and agents to lose their cool in a public forum and slander the other side.

Welker is as loyal of a guy as they get. He's been the underdog his whole life, the high school phenom who couldn't land a scholarship until someone bailed on Texas Tech a week after signing day, the record breaker in college who only got one pre-draft workout, the training camp cult hero who got cut in Week 2. For more than a decade, Welker has merely wanted to feel appreciated, and the Patriots gave him that love by acquiring him and turning him into the greatest slot receiver in the NFL.

Welker's 554 receptions since 2007 are the most in the NFL in that span. He's got 80 more than anyone else, and there are only four players within 100 of that total over the last five years. Once again, Welker has become a record breaker, but he said this season he couldn't have achieved this success without quarterback Tom Brady. That mutual respect is another reason why the negotiations will stay on track.

The organization loves the blue-collar receiver, too. He's a model citizen, an extremely marketable figure and Brady's most reliable target. There's no chance Brady lets them take away another weapon, the way he was stripped of Deion Branch and David Givens after 2005.

Welker, who will turn 31 in May, should probably get a contract somewhere in the area of four years and $40 million. He could get more on the open market, but with the franchise tag of a very team-friendly $9 million, give or take, the Patriots won't let it get that far.

Plus, while the Patriots earned the reputation of getting too tight with their money in the past, they've kept every worthy player in recent years, doling out contracts to Brady, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, left guard Logan Mankins and linebacker Jerod Mayo (all of whom are captains, by the way). Mankins' process was difficult, but the rest were easy, relative to each player's stardom. Seriously, look around the league, and a very limited amount of teams have retained their big-money players with the ease of the Patriots and those four contracts.

Welker will have to live with that drop forever, but he's as mentally tough as they get. These are the moments that break athletes, but once Welker peels himself off the turf, he'll work to get himself back into that type of position, just like he did after a torn ACL threatened to derail his career.

When Welker and the Patriots work out a deal, all parties involved will resume their preparations to get back to the postseason. One drop shouldn't define Welker's career or his value to the Patriots, and it won't. The two sides respect each other far too greatly to let their run end this way.

Read more on Wes Welker's journey to prove his doubters wrong >>

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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