The New England Patriots and wide receiver Wes Welker will have a few more hours to hammer out a contract extension before the 4:00 p.m. Monday deadline for Franchise Players to have their contract extended.
As of early this morning, sources seem to indicate that a deal between the two sides is unlikely--citing that the two sides are far apart on how much money in a possible Welker extension will be fully guaranteed. On Sunday, Tom E Curran of CSN New England called negotiations "non-existent".
So if no deal is struck between the two sides before the late afternoon deadline, this means that Welker will play as the Patriots' franchise player; making about $9.5 million on a one-year contract. However, negotiations for a contract extension can not occur until after the 2012 season, when Welker could hit free agency and leave the Patriots in his rear view mirror.
The potential loss of Welker is unimaginable for some Patriots fans. I know, it is for me at least. Since coming to New England in 2007, he's caught over 100 passes and racked up over 1,000 receiving yards in four of his five seasons with the Pats. He's a four-time pro-bowler and a two-time All-Pro wide receiver who redefined his career in New England.
Not only has he become a prime target for Tom Brady on the football field and a fan favorite off the field, Welker has been able to do what names like Chad Ochocinco couldn't do; buy into and fully understand Bill Belichick's system and the aforementioned Patriot Way. After very pedestrian years in San Diego and Miami, one can argue that Welker's career was actually saved by Brady, Belichick and the Patriots offense.
So here we are, just a few hours away that could determine the fate of Welker's long-term future in New England. If the Patriots and Welker strike a deal, one of the best receivers in the NFL and in franchise history will be locked up for good. If not, it's just another seemingly happy marriage that could end in an ugly divorce.
So it's do or die for the Patriots, right? Well, not exactly.
If no deal is reached by Monday's deadline, the Patriots have one last chance keep the All-Pro wide receiver for at least one more season. That would be to once again franchise him, and fully guarantee him him a salary of a little over $11 million for the next season. Even if Welker refused to sign the tender, this at least gives the Patriots a little more time to negotiate a contract extension with him.
Welker, along with starting safety Patrick Chung are the only players on the Patriots roster even worthy of the tag. Unlike with Welker, the Patriots seem to have major leverage on Chung. The high-ceiling safety, who was drafted by the team in 2009, hasn't played a full season in the NFL to his credit. Unless they believe him to be unworthy of a roster spot after this season (which seems unlikely), a possible extension between Chung and the Pats could happen during the season. This would give them the offseason to discuss a possible extension for Welker.
To the demise of some Welker die hards, the Patriots could also be planning a future where Wes Welker and his contract demands aren't involved. The Patriots do have Brandon Lloyd for two more seasons after this one, and have drafted potential "Welker in waitings" in Julian Edelman and 2012 seventh round pick Jeremy Ebert. Both of whom have similar build to him and project as slot receivers.
They could also potentially deal Welker for a first round pick that could be used to draft his replacement. But this is all just crazy speculation on my part.
But the fact of the matter is, that the Patriots can and aren't afraid to trade away star players that become distractions. Richard Seymour, Deion Branch, Randy Moss and Asante Samuel are some notables whom the Patriots traded away after they raised heck over their contract. Wes Welker, you are no different.
One thing that Belichick is especially good at as replacing outgoing talent by building from within. There's no doubt that he'd been preparing for the possibility of Welker leaving. He was reportedly more turned on by the idea of Welker leaving town, after he made the contract talks so public. He was a big part of making Wes Welker, a primary kick returner, into the stud slot wide receiver he is today. If he finds a player in the draft or free agency that he sees potential in, he can recreate Welker in another player.
I'm the first one to tell you that I want Welker back. I really do. Over his years in New England, he's provided a new dimension to this already dynamic offense. I've come to love Welker as a player, and hope he stays in New England for the rest of his career. If no deal is reached on Monday, there's still a good chance that we'll see Welker back in New England again for 2013, on a one-year or multi-year deal. All hope isn't lost!
But all hope isn't lost, even if Welker walks away. Bill Belichick is known for drafting and developing players into what he wants them to become. We could have the next Wes Welker in a matter of a season, if not earlier. He's obviously a unique player who will forever be revered in New England Patriots history, but we've heard this story before. The Patriots simply don't like contract talks to get ugly.
Whatever happens, we'll have Wes for 2012, which could help us get back and hopefully win the Super Bowl. While I hope (and I firmly believe) that Welker will be a Patriot for life, we have to remember one thing that we Boston fans learned this past year. We have to enjoy the players' time in our team's uniform, because things can change. But for now, let's hope that Wes Welker isn't the next Tim Thomas, Kevin Youkilis or especially Ray Allen.