Wes Welker Continues to Prove Invaluable Even in Face of Patriots’ Contract Dispute

Wes Welker Continues to Prove Invaluable Even in Face of Patriots' Contract DisputeWhen Wes Welker turned down a two-year, $16 million contract extension during the 2011 regular season, the decision was strictly business. But in signing his $9.5 million franchise tender last Tuesday, the four-time Pro Bowler clearly showed where his true loyalties lie.

Sure, getting an almost 500 percent raise — Welker made $2.15 million in 2011 — certainly has inherent benefits on its own. But the decision to sign the tender now, rather than leveraging a holdout during training camp, just continues to prove that the Patriots star receiver is an invaluable commodity.

New England's OTAs (organized team activities) started on Monday and Welker was present to kick off the offseason workouts with his teammates. Welker's presence in camp is a big statement for a guy relentlessly — and potentially ufairly — criticized for a key drop in the Patriots' loss in Super Bowl XLVI. And maybe more importantly for a top-flight receiver without any true long-term security.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke about Welker's contract situation on Tuesday. But while Kraft expressed an interest in keeping Welker a "Patriot for life," he also suggested the receiver must be willing to "put our team first."

The reference was almost humorous under the circumstances, especially given that Welker's decision to sign the tender almost confirms that exact sentiment.

The storyline is an appealing one. It's one that makes Welker seem like the underappreciated hero with an insatiable love for the game, and paints the Patriots as the evil executive never properly rewarding the returns of hard work. Your classic Wall St. vs. Main St. standoff.

Well, maybe not exactly. There are some shades of grey involved — maybe not 50, but definitely some blurred lines nonetheless.

The reality of the situation is there's no simple solution to the Welker dilemma. It's a very complicated predicament — matters of money always are. But to fully appreciate Welker's clear commitment to the organization and to winning, it's only fair to make a reasonable comparison and judge accordingly.

Prior to the start of the 2011 season, then NFL rushing leader Chris Johnson decided that his contract wasn't a true testament to his value. The star running back took a stand against the "injustice" by holding out of Titans training camp until a deal was finally struck on September 1, 2011 — just 10 days before Tennessee's first regular season game.

The results were dismal for Johnson, as the 26-year-old tailback struggled to even get close to his 2010 form. Johnson ran for the fewest yards (1,047), touchdowns (four) and 100-yard games of his career in 2011, and may very well have cost Tennessee a playoff berth.

It took the fourth-year running back until the ninth game of the season to record both his second touchdown and 100-yard game of the year. Johnson failed to reach the 70-yard plateau in 12 Titans games during the season, including four games the team lost by seven points of less.

Johnson's extremely slow start to the season had a negative impact on the team and led to some underwhelming production from the Titans offense. It appears that it may have even cost them a spot in the playoffs.

By signing his tender early and avoiding a holdout, Wes Welker has set himself apart from Johnson and avoided the same type of trouble seen in the Pro Bowl running back. But even more importantly, Welker's decision proved his unwavering dedication to both the team and the winning tradition in New England. Welker's presence at OTAs just goes to show that he's more interested in the success of the team than his own financial gains.

So when Kraft says that he wants Welker to be a "Patriot for life," the inclination is to believe the well-liked owner. But it's Welker's actions that speak a lot louder to his commitment to this franchise.

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