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From the Hart: What's Welker worth?

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If a rising tide truly lifts all boats, then the prevailing thought of late was that the cost for the Patriots to reach a long-term deal with Welker went up quite a bit in the last few days.

While the Pro Bowl receiver was last heard from expressing on Twitter his happiness at the idea of staying in New England for 2012 under the team's $9.5 million franchise tender, seemingly every other free agent wide receiver spent the first few days of free agency inking huge money long term contracts.

Vincent Jackson went to Tampa on a five-year deal for $55 million. Pierre Garcon got five years and $42 million from the Redskins. Marques Colston stayed in New Orleans for another five years and $40 million. DeSean Jackson, who'd been franchised by the Eagles, reached a five-year, $50 million deal to stay in Philly. On the ridiculous end, Calvin Johnson signed an eight-year deal worth more than $130 million deal to stay the centerpiece of the Detroit offense.

All these deals for the top wide receivers on the free agent market were met with speculation in New England that every contract increased the amount it was going to take to get Tom Brady's favorite target signed beyond the franchise tag. The idea was that Welker, who reportedly turned down the Patriots two-year, fully guaranteed $16 million offer during the season, was worth as much or more than these other receivers given the fact that he caught more passes over the last five seasons (554) than any player in the NFL.

But there is a major difference between Welker and the guys getting the big coin in free agency – his birth certificate. Welker will be 31 years old on May 1, putting him on the wrong side of the key NFL age of 30.

Jackson was the oldest of the receivers to get big deals early in free agency, and he's two years younger than Welker. Not to mention the added detail that Jackson is a traditional more highly valued No. 1, big-play outside receiver rather than a slot machine like Welker.

In fact, looking at the contracts signed of late, maybe the more comparable number would be the three-year, $17.5 million deal that 33-year-old Reggie Wayne got to return to Indianapolis.

The bottom line with Welker is that while he's been arguably the best, most consistent pass catcher in the game in his five seasons in New England, it wouldn't be good NFL business to overpay him now for what he's done in the past. So while he may look on from afar drooling at the contracts that guys with less production are getting to open free agency, there is little that No. 83 can do about it.

Welker was underpaid on his last contract. But that is water under the bridge.

Even with all the big money being thrown around to younger receivers in free agency, Welker's situation remains somewhat unchanged. He's limited by the franchise tag. He's limited by his age. He's limited in that the Patriots rarely set the bar at a position for any player, certainly not a player who's past the prime of his career.

So Welker's true market value is probably somewhere between the deal that Jackson got and the one that Wayne received (the difference between three years at $17 million and five years at $55 million). That's probably a four-year deal worth somewhere between $32 and $38 million with about half of it guaranteed.

If Welker is willing to sign such a deal, the Patriots probably would oblige him. If he has dreams of getting the $40 or $50 million over five years that all the other, younger receivers seem to be getting then he's probably going to be disappointed.

That's the simple reality of the business of the NFL, where a rising tide of big money contracts may not in fact lift all boats. Especially if one of those is older than more of the other comparable yachts.

Do you think Welker's value has changed over the last week? What do you think it will take to get a long term deal done with No. 83? Do you think it will happen? Let us know with a comment below!

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