Last season, New England Patriots' wide receiver Wes Welker led the league in receptions, the fourth time in his five years in New England Welker has topped 110 catches. Now, the Patriots and Welker appear headed toward an ugly offseason.
Welker is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. However, according to a Boston Globe article today, the Patriots are expected to put the franchise tag on Welker, guaranteeing him a $9.4 million salary for 2012. The report, however, says, it's not clear if Welker would be willing to sign the franchise tender, instead possibly following the precident set by guard Logan Makins in 2010 with a protracted holdout.
If Welker signs the tender, he will lose any leverage he has with the team in working out a new, long term deal. By refusing to sign the tender, Welker would not attend any offseason training programs, training camp, and possibly preseason and regular season games. And, as the report points out, Welker would not be losing anything other than money by refusing to sign the tender.
When Makins held out, he was forced to return to the tean by med-season, or risk losing a year toward free agency. Welker already has the requisite years of service for free agency. He could, theoretically, miss the entire season, and then come back as a free agent in 2013.
The Patriots, meanwhile, could look at the success of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, as well as the development of younger players like Julian Edelman, as reasons they can afford to wait for their 31-year-old Pro Bowl wide receiver to come back to the team. Otherwise, the team will continue to put the ball up in the air, with quarterback Tom Brady just looking to spread the 122-receptions Welker had in 2011 around to the rest of the team.
It could get ugly in New England this offseason. And, with it being an AFC East Division rival, as well as Welker being a former Miami Dolphins player, it could be an intriguing storyline to watch.