NFL clubs had until Monday 4 p.m. EST to reach agreements with their franchise-tagged players on long-term contracts, or else put the matter off till the offseason. New England opted for the latter. As the deadline approached, several teams got deals done with their franchise players in the nick of time. Those, like Welker, who weren't so fortunate now face considerable uncertainty.
Welker has made it clear in public comments that the $9.5 million he'll receive in 2012 is reason enough for him to report to training camp on time and play through the season. He said it was "the right thing to do" by signing the one-year tender, while others, like New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees, refused to do so and was ultimately granted a 5-year, $100 million deal.
Sitting out 2012 is now not a viable option for Welker, because of all the money he would lose. So, between now and next March, here's what could happen to him (in descending order of likelihood, in my estimation):
He plays and is franchised again by New England, bringing the situation back to square one. It would then be up to Welker to decide if he accepts another lucrative one-year contract, or tells the team, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," and holds out.
Welker is dealt
Rather than risk the ugliness described above or the disappointment detailed below, the Patriots could take preemptive measures and trade him before Week 8 this fall and get something for him in return.
He plays, the team allows him to become an unrestricted free agent in 2013, and signs with another team.
Patriots pay Welker
They'd tag him again in 2013, then quickly come to an extension agreement.
My sense is, the Patriots want to keep Welker around a little longer, without assuming much risk. Therefore, they'll keep him this year and see how it plays out. If he produces the way he has since he arrived in 2007, they'll tag him again at the end of February, hope he signs the tender once more, and hope he lowers his demands. If not, they pay him for another year and put the matter off till 2014.
However, Welker could elect not to sign the franchise tender again, especially if he continues putting up up league-leading numbers this season. That could turn into quite a mess for both sides. Seems to me, that's the most likely outcome at this point.
Did the Patriots drop the ball with Welker? And what do you think the club should do with him going forward? As always, let us know with a comment below.