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Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe reports that the Patriots and Wes Welker are still roughly $6 million in guaranteed money apart in negotiations for the receiver's long-term contract extension. Welker was given a franchise tag of $9.5 million before the start of free agency but wants a deal that will guarantee him just under the $21 million he would be paid over the next two years. Bedard writes that the Patriots' decision to extend Welker's contract, which must be made by 4 pm on July 16, will be determined by how they expect Welker to perform this season. "If the Patriots feel he will repeat his terrific production of a year ago or close to it," writes Bedard, "then right now they need to figure out what they would do after this season." Welker led the NFL with 122 receptions in 2011 and was second only to Calvin Johnson with 1,569 yards receiving. Bedard also notes that signing Welker to a contract extension now could allow the club to free up cap room down the road. "That savings," continues Bedard, "could be used on extensions for Aaron Hernandez, Sebastian Vollmer, and/or Patrick Chung now, or rolled over onto next year's cap."

Greg Bedard also notes that negotiating the franchise tag of Aaron Hernandez may not be as simple as it appeared in the wake of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski's recent extension. Hernandez is under contract until 2013, but when it expires Hernandez and his agent David Dunn will likely request that the versatile tight end receive a franchise tag at wide receiver, since the receiver tag ($9.5 million) is almost double that of a tight end ($5.4 million). Agent Bill Baratz struck a similar deal with the Packers for Jermichael Finley in February. Finley (152 snaps) and Hernandez (123) led all NFL tight ends last season in snaps taken at receiver, according to "The argument is there to be made that in his role, Hernandez is more of a receiver than a tight end," notes Bedard.

James Walker of writes that while Tom Brady trails two quarterbacks in ESPN's latest positional rankings, the New England QB is still his pick for a must-win game. In ESPN's most recent installment in its countdown of the NFL's top 30 quarterbacks on Sunday, analyst Ron Jaworski selected Brady at No. 3 behind the Saints' Drew Brees and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers. Jaworski identified Brady's pocket presence as his most impressive trait, noting that "few quarterbacks in NFL history move within the pocket better than Tom Brady." Walker pointed out Brady's age (34) as a possible issue and admitted that he would probably take Rodgers over Brady if he were starting a franchise from scratch. Still, Walker mentioned that Brady's playoff experience is unparalleled and that he would still pick Brady over Brees. "He has immense big-game experience, playing in five Super Bowls, and his classic pocket style fits many different receivers and offenses," writes Walker of Brady.

Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald writes that linebacker Bobby Carpenter will have to compete closely with Jeff Tarpinian and Tracy White for a spot on the 53-man roster this season. Bill Belichick has spoken highly of Carpenter, who signed with the club in early April. "Belichick heavily praised Carpenter for his versatility and football knowledge," reports Howe. Still, Howe points out that remaining roster spots at the linebacker position are limited, meaning that the three linebackers may be competing for one or two jobs. White has been a valuable asset on special teams, while Tarpinian could still have practice squad eligibility if he remains with the club.

Mike Rodak of believes that offensive lineman Nick McDonald will also have to battle for a roster spot in 2012. The 25-year-old McDonald played in four games last season at center after injuries to linemen Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly. Both Koppen and Connolly are healthy to begin the 2012 campaign, meaning that an opening at center is not likely. Rodak reports that if McDonald earns a spot on the club, it will probably be at guard. "Until guard Logan Mankins returns from offseason knee surgery, offseason pickup Robert Gallery appears slated to be the replacement left guard, leaving Ryan Wendell and McDonald as the top two interior backups," writes Rodak. "The Patriots seem to value depth along the offensive line, and keeping McDonald on the roster would provide that." Rodak sets McDonald's chances of making the team at 55%.

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