With the Patriots choosing not to stick a hefty $11.4 million franchise tag on their coveted free agent, it's now up to both sides to determine their stances on a possible contract extension.
In an unsurprising (but nevertheless concerning) bit of news, Ron Borges of the Boston Herald reports that the New England Patriots will not use the costly $11.4 million franchise tag to retain WR Wes Welker for another year:
The Patriots are simply not going to put an $11.4 million franchise tag on Welker, someone with intimate knowledge of the team’s thinking said. Nor is he going to get an offer better than the one he turned down in 2011.
The move--or lack thereof--was to be expected. Just last season, the team appeared to do everything in its power to hammer out a long-term contract extension with Welker. Talks were unsuccessful--and extremely far apart--so the Patriots opted to use the $9.6 million franchise tag to prevent Welker from walking in free agency and delay contract negotiations until a more favorable time presented itself.
Fast forward a year later, and both the Patriots and Welker find themselves in an eerily similar position--except this season, the estimated franchise tag for wide receivers is a staggering $11.4 million. It's a price tag that is predictably prohibitive for the Patriots to want to touch. All the more troubling is Borges' assertion that Welker is unlikely to receive a better offer than the one he turned down the previous year--a fully guaranteed two-year, $16 million deal.
With the team unlikely to stray too far from that figure, the onus is now on Wes Welker to come down on his price or seek a higher deal elsewhere. It's unfortunate that the status of New England's most accomplished wideout has come down to business-soiled hardball, but it's always been the Patriots' avoidance of excessive overspending that allows them to build a deep and competitive roster each and every season. With Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, and the tight end tandem of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski already receiving the lion's share of cash, the team has very limited funds to appropriate on the offensive side of the ball. Unless Welker and his agent discover a veritable desert in the vast free agent field, it's frighteningly possible that we've seen the last of Welker's days in a Patriots uniform.