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Long-term deal for Wes Welker doesn’t make sense for Patriots

What are you thinking if you’re Wes Welker [1]?

Vincent Jackson [2] — who has caught 242 passes since the start of the 2007 season, or 312 fewer than Welker — signed a $55 million contract ($26 million guaranteed) on Tuesday. Pierre Garcon [3] — with zero 1,000-yard seasons and a career high of 70 catches — inked a $42.5 million deal with the Redskins ($21.5 million guaranteed).

And now Calvin Johnson [4] — probably the best wide receiver in the NFL, sure, but look at his numbers vs. Welker’s since 2007 (Johnson: 366 catches, 5,872 yards, 49 TDs, Welker: 554 catches, 6,105 yards, 31 TDs) — gets the first real holy s–t deal of the offseason, $132 million ($60 million guaranteed).

OK, let’s get a couple of obvious disclaimers out of the way — Welker is older than Jackson, Garcon or Johnson. He’s blown out his ACL and MCL. Maybe you didn’t know this, but he isn’t 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. All very fair and all part of the reason Welker finds himself at this point contractually.

Look, Wes Welker is going to be paid at least $9.5 million dollars to play football this season. Hard to believe, but there has never been a folk song written about a guy making about 10 million bucks to catch (mostly) spirals from one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the history of the league.

But in a world of millionaires, it’s plenty fair to suggest that Welker, given what he has done for this franchise and his production level compared to the very best at his position, is kind of getting screwed by the Patriots.

If he’s pissed about that, he has every right to be. Wes Welker is twice the football player Vincent Jackson is on Jackson’s best day. DeSean Jackson [5] signed a $51 million contract on Wednesday. Yup, the same guy who was deactivated for skipping a team meeting and was benched for basically showing no balls against the Patriots last season while dropping a pair of TD passes (Welker had eight catches for 115 yards and two TDs in the same game) just got handed $51 million dollars strictly on potential. Forget about not being able to carry Wes Welker’s jock, DeSean Jackson wouldn’t even put forward the effort to try.

And Wes Welker — the most productive wide receiver in football the last five seasons — has a one-year deal.

Here’s the thing, though — it’s not going to change. We’ve now passed the point where a long-term deal makes sense for either side, really. If Welker (and agent David Dunn) are looking at these deals and truly believe that kind of money is what is deserved, they will never get it from Bill Belichick [6]. Not going to happen.

The Patriots (meaning Belichick, of course) will correctly tell Welker and Dunn, in probably a kinder way, that just because the Buccaneers [7] and Redskins are represented by morons who clearly overpaid for wide receiver value doesn’t mean the Patriots will follow down the path to dopedom.

What these monster contracts for pretty good players (not counting Calvin Johnson, who looks an awful lot like a potential all-timer) has very likely done is wipe out any shot of Welker signing a multiyear contract. It no longer works for Welker (hey, I’m better than these guys, why should I sign for less than Pierre Garcon or Vincent Jackson?) or the Patriots (hard to believe they would hand out $25, $30 million in guaranteed money to a player they offered a $16 million deal to in the middle of last season — a year that saw him lead the league in catches and put up 1,569 yards receiving. If they didn’t value him as a $30 million guy five months ago I don’t think the organizational priorities of the Washington Redskins [8] is suddenly going to lead to a shift.).

And it’s now easy to say the Patriots should’ve locked Welker up a year ago, but I don’t remember a lot of call for it then. Remember, Welker was coming off the ACL and MCL surgery and had, in 2010, his worst season in New England (86 catches for 848 yards, career-low 9.9 yards per catch, top three in the NFL in drops).

It’s a business, and right now it doesn’t make a lot of business sense to pay Welker what he deserves for three or four years. You slap him with the franchise tag and wait and see what happens. If it turns out that he’s again terrific they can hit him with the tag again in 2013. That’ll be about $11.5 million (120 percent of his 2012 salary), which would be $21 million guaranteed over two years. Could he do better on the open market? Maybe, but not by much. And if he blows out his knee or suffers a drop in production you can a) let him walk or b) potentially sign him to a more reasonable deal.

The Patriots are absolutely making the correct business decision here — at this point their hands are tied three times over. Assuming Welker doesn’t take a hometown discount (and $16 million for two years was serious lowball stuff before these crazy contracts were handed out, now it looks like a complete joke) it’s a no-brainer. Why hand out $30 million at once when you can wait and see what happens year-by-year?

And perhaps Welker does take a discount to say here, maybe he looks at Brady and Belichick and all the other stuff and realizes he’ll never be in a better situation. And maybe there is a middle ground. But if he and Dunn look at Vincent Jackson and Calvin Johnson and think that’s the template, they are going to be disappointed.

Wes Welker has been about as good an all-around football player as you’ll ever see over the last five years. It’s easy to suggest he’s a product of the system or has benefited by having Brady (and there’s some truth to both), but nobody else catches 120 passes a year (and he caught 111 passes the year Brady was hurt). There is no question he deserves a long-term contract.

But the actions of the Redskins, Buccaneers, Eagles and Lions may have made that impossible.

The Patriots have drawn the line in the sand. They simply aren’t going to budge. Will Welker?