2012 could very well be Wes Welker's last season as a New England Patriot.
The 4:00 PM ET deadline for NFL teams and franchise tagged players to come to an agreement has come and passed, and as expected, the New England Patriots have failed to come to terms on a long-term contract with wide receiver Wes Welker.
While it would have come as a surprise if the sides did get a deal done, this is still disappointing. The Patriots will now pay Welker $9.5 million in 2012. If they choose to give the franchise tag to Welker again in 2013, that number will be more than $11 million. According to multiple reports, the Patriots and Wes Welker were significantly far apart on guaranteed money for a third year of a possible contract extension.
That's exactly why I think the Patriots plan to move on from Welker. There's little doubt in my mind that Welker will be a productive player during his age 33 season (2014). Had the Patriots agreed to a long-term deal with Welker, they would have save money up front during the 2012 and 2013 seasons that they could have rolled over (if they had the cap space) to 2014 to reduce the risk. They would also have more money to throw up-front signing bonuses to players such as Pat Chung and Aaron Hernandez, who should also be in line for extensions.
I don't think there was too much pressure from Welker's side to get this deal done. He's getting paid as a top 5 NFL receiver this year. Next year, he'll either be making more than $11 million via the franchise tag, or will get a lucrative long-term deal on the open market.
The Patriots, had they wanted Welker to be a Patriot long-term, should have felt the pressure to get the extension done, and should have conceded more to Welker's terms in order to make that happen. In my opinion, this means one of three things:
1. The Patriots want to keep Welker long-term, but made a mistake (financially) by not conceding to Welker's terms in the present, OR;
2. The Patriots don't see Welker in their future plans, and are ready to move on from him after the season, whether by letting him go via free agency, or possibly by tagging and trading him
The Patriots and Welker could always just come to a long-term agreement following the 2012 season. However, considering the Patriots were already hesitant to hand Welker a third year during this offseason's negotiations, the sides agreeing on a long-term deal seems like a long shot at this point.