Instead, he will have to play the 2012 season on the $9.5 million franchise tag he signed in June. Not a bad deal, really, but not the deal Welker (or, presumably, the Patriots) were aiming for.
So what else does it mean? There’s a couple answers.
It could mean Welker has a career year as he tries to prove to all 32 teams in the league that even in his thirties, he’s a force on the field and deserves a big-ticket contract, not dissimilar to the one Calvin Johnson just signed.
Welker’s already plays scrappy. He’s a little dude compared to most of the defensive backs and linebackers who cover him and he almost always plays with the most intensity of any guy on the field. With an added chip on his shoulder, who knows what level he’ll be going at come September.
However, will there be bad blood between Welker and the Pats, particularly between him and Bill Belichick? Will he be reticent or loquacious with the media when he’s asked about the lack of contract? Will he abandon the Patriot Way in an effort to either force the team’s hand or impress another club?
There is a school of thought that has to inevitably question Welker’s decision to sign the tag. Should he have held out like Drew Brees and Matt Forte, who were ultimately rewarded for their patience with big contracts? Or would a hold-out have just meant he spent a season on the sidelines, since everyone knows the Pats don’t like to play hardball?
It’s impossible to say. Maybe a hold out would have worked, maybe it wouldn’t have. To be honest, it says a lot about Welker’s mindset that he did commit to the tag so early. Like Randy Moss before him, Welker may believe that the Pats aren’t going to pay him the kind of money he wants anyway, so better to sign the tag, make nearly $10 million for one season and move on to greener pastures come March. These are, unfortunately, the twilight years of his career after all. He can’t be taking those hits over the middle forever and he wants to make a buck while he still can.
But, will the decision back fire the other way? What if Welker gets injured again and becomes a far less valuable asset to every other team? Will he regret not taking a deal the Pats did offer, even if the guaranteed money he really wanted wasn’t exactly there? Tough to say.
As the long-term deal deadline has come and gone, it’s time to accept that this may be the last year we see Welker in Patriot blue. It’s possible the team could work something out with him when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year, but if the Pats and Welker’s camp are as far apart on the issues as the press has made them out to be, it seems unlikely they’ll get any closer as Welker ages one more year.
As it always does, time will tell the tale.