ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss described Robert Kraft's 20-minute Q&A at the NFL owners meetings this afternoon as the most detail he's ever heard divulged about a contract situation.
Of course, many fans may have felt entitled to an explanation regarding one of the franchise's most beloved players in Wes Welker. But in reality, we aren't. The Patriots could have predictably adopted a "mum's the word" modus operandi—no matter how much of a black eye the contract may have been from a PR standpoint—and we'd have been powerless to stop it. Citing financial confidentiality or a refusal to commit 'tampering,' the organization would have every right to be as tight-lipped as they felt they needed to be.
Instead, owner Robert Kraft dropped a shockingly candid bomb (read: several) on the media when he went on a setting-the-record-straight tirade. Speculation has been running rampant since the Welker/Amendola debacle less than a week ago, but in Kraft's words, the Patriots absolutely did want Wes Welker back:
"We usually don’t talk about contracts, but I’d like to clear up what I think is some misconceptions about the Wes situation. I’ll go into limited financial details. You know, everyone in our organization wanted Wes Welker back. Anyone who doubts that, or thinks we weren’t serious, just doesn’t get it. I’ve owned the team 19 years and I’ve known in the end we have to have certain limits and restraints. Like I’ve said many times, I really wanted Wes to be with us through the rest of his career, but it takes two sides to do a deal"
This introduction doesn't really offer anything new in that it echoes Kraft's earlier comments that he wanted Welker to be a "Patriot for Life." What he does admit here is how the Patriots work a player's contract around the parameters of 'limits and constraints'; in other words, a refusal to overvalue a player based on an inherent emotional attachment. Kraft then delves into specifics:
"In Wes’ case, we were willing to go what we considered above his market value. For a couple years, we tried to get a long-term deal done with him. We couldn’t do a deal and we wound up franchising him at a very high number. In retrospect, I wish we could have wrapped that into an arrangement where it was part of a longer-term deal. But I really believe in this case, his agents misrepresented, in their mind, what his market value was. When you come right down to the bottom line, he accepted a deal in Denver which is less money than what we offered him. In fact, he has a one-year deal in Denver for $6 million. Our last offer, before we would have even gone up and before we thought we were going into free agency, was a $10 million offer with incentives that would have earned him another $6 million if he performed the way he had the previous two years. But in Denver, he’s going to count $4 million against the cap this coming year and $8 million the second year. There is no guarantee that he plays the second year there. He will get $6 million the first year. Our deal, he would have gotten $8 million the first year – our last offer to him.
In just a few tidy sentences, Kraft quickly puts the onus on Welker's agent David Dunn while simultaneously suggesting the Patriots had a better deal on the table all along. While Kraft and the Patriots wouldn't be expected to point fingers at themselves for perpetrating the ordeal, it's interesting to note that Welker's agent carries the brunt of the blame in the team's eyes for greatly overvaluing his client. Kraft goes on:
"Just to clear up any misconception, we wanted Wes back ... When free agency came, and his agents kept on insisting on a very high number that was beyond our number, we had to go work alternatives. Our second alternative was Danny Amendola. He had offers from other teams. So we made a judgment that Wes, unfortunately probably wouldn’t be with us. We made this commitment to Amendola"
You get the impression that Kraft feels like he was seemingly lied to by Dunn. By suggesting the Patriots were readily offering a superior deal to the Denver Broncos, Kraft is suggesting that Welker's agent deliberately drove the price up for the Patriots to a number they eventually didn't feel comfortable spending. The signing of Danny Amendola still wasn't reactionary as the Patriots had to brace for a possible Wes Welker departure anyways after failing to come to a long-term agreement, but Kraft certainly admits that Amendola was a Plan B.
"Wednesday, I personally got a call from Wes and he told me about this offer from Denver. He called Bill as well. We met and we chatted. We have a lot of people, we’ve committed a lot of money to this inside position – you have Gronk, you have Hernandez, you have Danny [Amendola] now – it was just unfortunately a little bit too late.
"If he had called one day earlier, he would have been with us. And so that, is the Wes Welker story. I’m very sad about it and I wish he would have been with our team."
It looks like the reports of Wes Welker voluntarily going to the Patriots to see if they would match weren't false. By that time, the Patriots had already committed to Amendola (and had to move quickly because of his active market), and the team saw the redundancy and financial repetitiveness involved with both players hypothetically being on the same roster. On the demands that Welker's agent allegedly made before free agency, Kraft wasn't as forthcoming:
"I’m not going to go into it. It was a substantial gap, way beyond. If he had come to us and said ‘the gap was the $2 million’ – which on the surface everyone believes that’s what it is – that would have been closed in a second. I really think, and I’m not saying … he has a great agent but I think they way overvalued; as they should. Their incentive – they don’t really care about the New England Patriots. They care about getting the best financial deal for their client they can get."
This bit sheds a substantial amount of light on what a number of people already surmised; that if the deals were really 'just' $2 million apart, the Patriots would never have let him get away. Again, another shot on Welker's agent who the Patriots clearly feel is to blame for the entire fiasco.
In a few short paragraphs, Kraft explained what many Patriots fans felt they should (and wanted) to hear; that the team did in fact make a significant offer to Wes Welker that they felt was fair, and through financial posturing, negotiations went sour quickly as a large amount of misinformation slipped through the cracks. It's ultimately no harm, no foul as the Patriots smartly had a contingency plan in place in the form of Danny Amendola, but the main wish here—that I'm sure would be echoed by all parties involved—is that things should have gone a lot differently for such a revered and well-respected Patriot.
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