Welker, who hasn't signed his franchise tender, doesn't stand to make any financial gain by reporting for voluntary workouts at Gillette Stadium. It would also hinder his leverage toward reaching a long-term deal, even if only by a slight amount.
The first two weeks of workouts are limited to strength and conditioning, so they'll be conducted by strength coach Harold Nash and his crew. Head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the key football coaches won't be allowed on the field (the first violation involves one forfeited week of workouts, a $100,000 fine for the coaches and $250,000 fine for the organization).
Because of the restrictions, some players, notably the bigger names, choose to work out on their own. The majority of the players who attend those workouts are new to the team or have to meet contract incentives (workout bonuses) to get paid. And since Welker's franchise tag fully guarantees his contract for the 2012 season, he's got nothing to gain from a financial standpoint by reporting for those workouts.
After the two weeks of conditioning workouts, the Patriots can begin three weeks of voluntary football activities, but the offense and defense cannot line up against one another on the field. If Welker doesn't show up to any of the first five weeks of workouts, the next date to watch might be May 21, which will be the start of the final four-week phase of offseason workouts, assuming the players don't receive any weeks off beforehand.
That phase includes three weeks of voluntary organized team activities and one week of mandatory minicamp. Since the OTAs are almost universally attended, it would be considered a strong statement if Welker didn't show up. The same could be said for minicamp, which is mandatory for players under contract. Since Welker isn't, it wouldn't be considered a holdout, even though it would symbolize his distaste for his contractual status.
Welker wants a long-term deal, and the Patriots have expressed the same desire. Since the two sides aren't making any substantial progress, it makes sense for Welker to find leverage in any possible form. By signing his tender and reporting to Gillette next week, the Patriots might not be in as much of a rush to lock him up for an additional two or three years.
Welker wants the long-term contract simply because he knows he's earned it, but he always wants some financial security as a player who takes a number of punishing hits — any one of which could shorten his career. The Patriots, meanwhile, can view that as a reason to reduce Welker's guaranteed money.
The Patriots' incentive toward a contract extension would have to do with freeing up Welker's $9.4 million in guaranteed money in 2012. Then again, with the high-priced free agents off the market at this point, the Patriots might be willing to spend the extra money this year to avoid tying up additional money in 2013 and beyond. They could then tag Welker next season, which would cost a minimum of $11.28 million (120 percent of $9.4 million). That's the point when they could be more serious about a longer deal, and that's the tough part about the business side of the game.
Welker is the ultimate team guy, and those close to him believe he'll honor his contract — or, in this case, his franchise tag — before letting things get out of hand with a cold war. Since the franchise tag gives the organization the leverage, Welker has to look out for himself with alternative negotiating strategies. Therefore, because he's got no financial incentive to show up next week, that's where the leverage play will start if there's no substantial progress toward a long-term deal.
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