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Analysis: What it means for Wes Welker to get the franchise tag

03.05.12 at 3:26 pm ET
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Wes Welker got the franchise tag from the Patriots. (AP)

A decade or so ago, when the Patriots hit a guy with the franchise tag, it was usually the first step in the eventual dissolution of the relationship — like one person telling the other: “We have to talk.” Tebucky Jones, Adam Vinatieri (the second time around), Asante Samuel and Matt Cassel all weren’t around Foxboro soon after they were hit with the franchise tag. In the case of Vinatieri and Samuel, they eventual left via free agency, or as a trade chip like Jones and Cassel.

But when the last two players — Vince Wilfork (in 2010) and Logan Mankins (in 2011) — were hit with the franchise tag, it was seen as part of the negotiation process. Neither individual was particularly happy about it, but it was done as a way of extending the negotiating window between the player and the team. And in both cases, despite some early acrimony, both players ended up signing big new deals with the Patriots.

When it comes to Welker, early indications are that his situation is a lot closer to the latter than the former. The wide receiver, who is expected to receive a roughly $9.4 million contract as the result of the tag (the league has yet to officially announce the tag numbers), has a very good working relationship with the franchise since he signed a five-year, $18 million deal prior to the start of the 2007 season. That was reflected in the overall optimistic tone of the statement issued by the franchise shortly after the news became official: “Wes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal. Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come.”

When it comes to Welker, despite the fact that he’s been wildly underpaid when compared to his output against other receivers (no one has caught more passes over the last five seasons), he has never publicly feuded with management. In addition, his representation (Athletes First) has had a very good working relationship with the Patriots: This was the agency that helped make Drew Bledsoe the richest player in the history of the league with a 2001 contract. They also represent several current members of the roster, including tight end Aaron Hernandez, running back Shane Vereen, offensive lineman Nate Solder and punter Zoltan Mesko.

So if/when Welker and the team can reach a long-term deal, what sort of numbers are we talking about? Reports indicate that the two sides have been working together to find some common ground for some time — a Boston Globe report says the Patriots offered Welker a two-year, fully-guaranteed contract for $16 million during the 2011 season, which was declined. Now, if the team did decide to franchise him for back-to-back seasons, he would get the equivalent of a two-year deal worth roughly $20 million.

Ultimately, early indications certainly appear that a four-year deal worth $8 million to $9.5 million annually would be about right, especially when you consider the market and Welker’s production. One analyst offered this as a model, which seems to make a lot of sense.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Drew Bledsoe
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