The NFL free agency period is set to kick off next Tuesday and, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has no intentions of re-signing with New England this offseason without testing the market first. Welker, 31, is an unrestricted free agent and is apparently willing to walk away from the Patriots.
This news comes after conflicting reports this week regarding Welker’s contract negotiations. Rumors first leaked that the Pats and Welker were closing in on a long-term extension, then reports surfaced saying that the wide receiver held “mild disdain” for the team because of his reduced role in the first few games this past season.
Welker received the franchise tender from New England at this time last season, but the team didn’t issue a franchise tender to any player for the 2013 season before this past Monday’s deadline, marking the first time since 2008 that the Patriots opted not to use the tag.
Welker has amassed 672 receptions and led the league in catches three times during his six-year tenure in New England and has a very strong relationship with Pats quarterback Tom Brady, but I wouldn’t be very surprised if Welker signed elsewhere this Spring.
The Pats have always been very cautious about handing out big time paychecks and it’s very likely that another NFL team will be willing to offer more than New England, especially considering the fact that the Patriots have spent the past few seasons trying to groom Julian Edelman into becoming “the next Welker” in the slot, as well as already exploring other potential options this offseason, including St. Louis’ Danny Amendola.
Brady and the Patriots have also increasingly relied on their young tight end corps that includes Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and Welker reportedly has questioned how big his role in the offense would have been if those tight ends hadn’t gotten hurt this season.
Welker has been a fan-favorite in New England since his arrival in 2007, and deservedly so based on his tremendous performance and work ethic, but it could make a lot of sense for the two sides to part ways at this point.