Today I'll be closing out my series of predictions as to how the media will
overreact to whatever the New England Patriots decide to do with Wes Welker. Of the three, I think this is the least likely scenario, to be honest, as it represents a fairly massive financial commitment with limited upside, but based on what we've all seen in offseasons past, you never know.
Scenario 3: The Patriots Franchise Welker
The Narrative: Wes Welker, despite all of his production and his positive contributions to his team, once again remains nothing but a cog in the cold metal of the Patriots machine. What more does he have to do to prove how valuable he is to this offense? How much more production can one team require before they lock him up with a long term deal? While Welker may be on the receiving end of a nice payday, he once again finds himself with zero long-term security and will hit the market in 2014 a year older and with another year of taking a pounding over the middle on his body. When the Patriots cast him aside like a piece of trash after this season, having exhausted him of every ounce of his resources, he may simply be too worn down to get the long-term deal he deserved back in 2012.
What they will be ignoring: Although franchise tags don't offer the kind of multi-year security that most players look for and don't provide the stability that accompanies a longer contract with more guaranteed money, the fact of the matter is that franchising Welker in 2012 and 2013 will net him over 20 million dollars. The vast majority of the world would have absolutely zero problem defining that kind of money as "financial security." And while Welker is a valuable player who has been loyal, determined, and has always said the right things, it is unfair to overlook the fact that the NFL is a business, and as a member of that business, the Patriots have to look out for the interests of the team first. It may not be seen as the most soft and cuddly of moves, but rarely does good business coincide with making everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. No player, no matter how good, is more important than the team as a whole, and should Welker get franchised, the decision will have been made that one year, 11 million dollars makes the most sense for both the present and the future.
The facts: This is only my opinion, so I don't know if I should bring it up under a paragraph labeled "the facts," but I think that franchising Welker is pretty much the equivalent of giving him a longer deal. As valuable as Welker is, he isn't worth 11 million dollars a year, and paying him that 11 million dollars would be a huge hit on New England's available 2013 cap space. Given that New England isn't a team to overpay players, odds are that the only reason that they would slap Welker with the franchise tag at this point would be so that they could have more time to work out the details of a more team-friendly contract. We all saw a similar scenario a few years ago when Vince Wilfork was franchised and then signed a multi-year contract later in the offseason, and we could very well see it again here. If New England is determined to keep Welker around but just can't get anything finalized before free agency hits, it makes all the sense in the world to franchise him and not allow other teams to tempt him away from the Patriots. What I would find most amusing about this particular scenario is the amount of backlash the Patriots would receive for franchising Welker, and then crickets when they do end up working something out. It happened with Brady's contract, it happened with Wilfork's contract, it happened with Mankins's contract, and it would happen again here. Of course, franchising Welker is also something of a gamble in that the team will be banking on him preferring a long-term deal as opposed to a one year contract. There is definitely a chance that the Patriots franchise Welker with the intention of buying more time to negotiate his terms, only to see him perfectly content to play for one more year with a huge payday. Of course, the Patriots can always remove the franchise tag should this happen, but doing so would pretty much doom Welker's chances of playing in New England.