All reports seem to indicate that the Patriots are working hard on a deal to keep Wes Welker, with only the final details keeping the two sides from signing that multiyear contract that has been several seasons in the making. The Patriots reportedly want to lock up Welker before free agency opens March 12 and other teams get into the bidding.
That would assume, however, that Welker wants to stick with the Patriots without giving the rest of the market a try. While that has been the common assumption for some time now, with Welker praising the team and saying he wants to stay, the situation may be changing now. After several years of the Patriots saying they value Welker but failing to back their words up with the contract Welker wants, Welker may have finally had enough, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reports.
Cole looks at Welker’s scenario in a Tuesday column, weighing the choice Welker is facing now: stay with the team where he’s comfortable, guaranteed to be productive and most likely to build a long-term legacy, or jump to a team that could give him more money and stronger assurances than he’s received in New England in recent years. As Cole writes, what’s complicating the situation for Welker is that the team’s antics in failing to get him a new deal in recent years may be too much this time.
“What’s important to consider is Welker’s somewhat mild disdain for the Patriots right now, according to a source close to the player,” Cole writes. “Welker apparently is a little miffed at how he was treated in last year’s opener, when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had him targeted for a season-low five pass attempts that resulted in a season-low three receptions.
“That bit of tweaking stuck in Welker’s craw all season. So did the notion that if tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski hadn’t both gotten hurt at different times, there’s a strong belief that Welker would have been limited to far fewer than the 118 receptions he finished with last season.
“In short, there’s a little paranoia in the Welker camp these days about his role with the Pats.”
Cole does have a point, and it isn’t a stretch to think that Welker may be wondering the same thing that Patriots fans have for some time: Do the Patriots even want Welker around? The beginning of last season was awkward for all involved, as New England appeared to be auditioning Julian Edelman to replace Welker and the money he would command in the offseason. While Welker does provide a different type of threat than Gronkowski or Hernandez, Cole’s point about McDaniels’ scheming is something that had Patriots fans wondering all season long.
New England has played for several years with the idea that Welker may be expendable, and that his 100-plus catches each season are less him being the perfect connection with Brady and more him being a solid trash outlet for the team’s excess passes. The team held off on a long-term deal with Welker before and gave him the franchise tag last season, failing to work out a new deal before the season began. The Patriots rarely pay for ability they can get cheaper, and Welker is exactly the type of player they shouldn’t be giving a multiyear contract to if they think they can get younger, more cost-effective talent elsewhere.
Those are facts that are apparently not lost on Welker. While he has long praised the team and quarterback Tom Brady, and expressed his desire to return, the Patriots dangling a contract again but failing to acknowledge Welker for what he thinks he’s worth could have more serious repercussions this time. With the free agent market looming, Welker may be the one stalling the negotiations this time — and, even if he doesn’t jump to another team, he may be getting what the Patriots have been trying to avoid the whole time: a higher price.
After franchise tags and a team still reticent to give him a deal, Welker may be ready to teach the Patriots that two can tango in this situation.