Patriots May Sign Welker For Long Haul

Wes Welker may have had a rough end of the season, but the ever-reliable wideout is one the Patriots would like to have around for the long haul.

Patriots still want to tie up Welker long term

   In what might have qualified as the worst-kept secret in the NFL (aside from Indianapolis' predictable release of Peyton Manning), the New England Patriots slapped the franchise tag on free agent wide receiver Wes Welker, keeping the valuable slot man in Foxboro for at least one more year.

   Welker was set to hit the market after hauling in at least 100 catches for at least 1,000 yards in four of his five seasons with the Patriots.

   The only reason he didn't make it five-for-five was because he spent parts of the 2010 season rehabilitating a knee injury from the previous year.

   Welker's long-term future in New England is still a mystery, but for now the organization can take solace in the fact its most dependable receiver will be back for at least one more season. Had he hit the open market, Welker would've asked for No. 1-receiver money, which might've been a sore spot at the negotiating table since Welker isn't widely considered in the same class as a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, who are bigger, more physical targets with the ability to go one-on-one on the outside against equally physical defensive backs.

   By trade, Welker is a slot receiver -- an undersized one, at that. His role, while incredibly valuable to the Patriots, might not be the same elsewhere, so, in reality, his monetary value really only translates to New England's offense.

   Based on how they've treated such negotiations in the past, the Patriots likely would've placed a specific value on Welker designed to both fit under the cap and not insult the player, and it's unlikely they would've wavered on that figure despite Welker's reaction.

   Stubborn as it may seem, it's how the Patriots have done business for years. Before the emergence of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who have become reliable red-zone threats in an offense that thrives on quarterback Tom Brady's ability to read defenses and get rid of the ball quickly, Welker might have been considered irreplaceable.

   This winter/spring, the Patriots could hit the free-agent market in search of a true, outside threat (Brandon Lloyd, Reggie Wayne, Mario Manningham, to name a few) with the money they're saving by not having to offer Welker a signing bonus as part of a new, long-term contract, and see how that model plays out on the field before deciding what they do with Welker beyond this upcoming season.

   The possibilities are endless, and the ball -- for now -- appears to be in New England's court, which is why franchising Welker made all the sense in the world, and was as predictable as a morning sunrise.

   On top of that, the Patriots now get a player playing for his next -- and perhaps final -- big contract, which typically leads to career years. In Welker's case, it's hard to top the numbers he put up last season (a career-high 1,569 receiving yards and nine touchdowns), but if anyone can do it would be him.

Ferentz leaves coaching staff for college job

   --Former Patriots tight end coach Brian Ferentz explained his decision to leave New England and join his father at the University of Iowa as an offensive line coach.

   "I think the move says I want to be a coach," Ferentz said. "I had an excellent experience in New England. I very much enjoyed my four years there, and it was a tremendous experience on a lot of different levels.

   "I got to work with excellent football players, excellent people, excellent coaches. It was a very good situation. For me it just seemed like a natural move for a lot of reasons. This is home, this is family, and more than just family with my family, but I feel like this program is family for me."

   --The need to find a true, No. 1 running back seems to have waned in recent years due to the production of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who'll hit the free-agent market, but likely will remain a Patriot.

   Green-Ellis is as dependable as they come (he's yet to fumble in his NFL career), but the Patriots could take a gamble on free agents Michael Bush of Oakland or Mike Tolbert of the Chargers. Tolbert, a goal-line runner in San Diego, might be the perfect candidate to pick up those tough yards on third-and-short, if the Patriots decide to pursue that option.

Welker For The Long Haul
  --Though there's no certainty wide receiver Wes Welker will remain in New England beyond this season, the Patriots have made it known publicly they want him back on a long-term basis.

   The team issued the following statement after placing the franchise tag on Welker: "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."

No Drop In His Eyes
  --Former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, now the head coach at Penn State, gave his succinct thoughts on Welker's alleged "drop" during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI, a play that would have put the Patriots on the brink of another title.

   "That was not a drop," O'Brien said. "It would have been a tremendous catch."

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really have no more words about it. I already talked about it once. I don't have to explain myself any more. That's all in the past now. I'm just looking into the future, we're looking into the offseason and trying to grind and get better this year now." - Tight end Rob Gronkowski on Rodney Harrison criticizing him for partying after Super Bowl XLVI.

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