Patriots owner Robert Kraft joined the rest of the league in Phoenix, Ariz., for the NFL Annual Meeting on Monday, and he was greeted with 20 minutes of questions mainly pertaining to his former slot receiver, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston.
Kraft was very open in his feelings for Welker, emphasizing how badly both he and head coach Bill Belichick wanted Welker to return to the team.
“We usually don’t talk about contracts, but I’d like to clear up what I think is some misconceptions about the Wes situation,” Kraft said. “You know, everyone in our organization wanted Wes Welker back. Anyone who doubts that, or thinks we weren’t serious, just doesn’t get it. I’ve owned the team 19 years and I’ve known in the end we have to have certain limits and restraints. Like I’ve said many times, I really wanted Wes to be with us through the rest of his career, but it takes two sides to do a deal.”
Kraft even delved into specifics of the contract negotiations between the two sides, which is an unusual practice for the Patriots.
“In Wes’ case, we were willing to go what we considered above his market value,” Kraft said. “For a couple years, we tried to get a long-term deal done with him. We couldn’t do a deal and we wound up franchising him at a very high number [$9.5 million]. In retrospect, I wish we could have wrapped that into an arrangement where it was part of a longer-term deal. But I really believe in this case, his agents misrepresented, in their mind, what his market value was.
“When you come right down to the bottom line, he accepted a deal in Denver which is less money than what we offered him. In fact, he has a one-year deal in Denver for $6 million. Our last offer, before we would have even gone up and before we thought we were going into free agency, was a $10 million offer with incentives that would have earned him another $6 million if he performed the way he had the previous two years. But in Denver, he’s going to count $4 million against the cap this coming year and $8 million the second year. There is no guarantee that he plays the second year there. He will get $6 million the first year. Our deal, he would have gotten $8 million the first year — our last offer to him.”
Welker’s contract dispute stems all the way back to 2012, when the Patriots decided to franchise him after the two sides were unable to come to terms on a deal. The two sides tangled in more negotiations this offseason, which ended in Welker signing with the Broncos when the Patriots’ offer came up short even after the receiver went back to them with the Broncos’ proposal.
The Patriots, not wanting to miss out at the start of free agency, ultimately decided to go in a different direction and signed Danny Amendola. Kraft remained very up front and honest about the situation, even indicating that Welker was always the No. 1 priority and Amendola was actually the team’s second choice.
“When free agency came, and his agents kept on insisting on a very high number that was beyond our number, we had to go work alternatives,” Kraft added. “Our second alternative was Danny Amendola. He had offers from other teams. So we made a judgment that Wes, unfortunately probably wouldn’t be with us. We made this commitment to Amendola.”
In the end, Kraft admitted he was sad to see Welker go but seemed ready to move on from that chapter in the Patriots’ history.
“If he had called one day earlier, he would have been with us,” Kraft added. “And so that is the Wes Welker story. I’m very sad about it and I wish he would have been with our team.”
It’s looks like time just wasn’t on their side.