Kraft wants Welker to be 'Patriot for life'

Just over 24 hours before Wes Welker officially becomes a free agent that can sign with any team, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he hopes the receiver "remains a Patriot for life, just like Tom Brady."

"I love Wes Welker,” Kraft told ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell on Monday in New York, where the NFL announced a $40 million research project on head injuries.

Welker has been negotiating a new deal with the Patriots, but does not plan to re-sign with the team before seeing what else is available on the free-agent market, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter last week. The reps for free agents could start to talk to other teams Saturday, the opening of the new legal tampering period leading into free agency. Free agents can sign contracts with other teams starting Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Brady ensured he’d be in New England until at least age 40 by restructuring his deal and tacking on a three-year extension that keeps him with the Patriots through 2017. His deal freed up an extra $8 million in cap space this offseason, money the quarterback was confident the Patriots would invest in signing players that would help them to another Super Bowl.

Welker, 31, received the Patriots' franchise tag last offseason but New England didn't issue a franchise tender to any player for the 2013 season before last week’s deadline. It was the first time since 2008 that the Patriots opted not to use the tag.

Welker finished last season with a team-high 118 catches and 1,354 yards, along with six touchdowns.

He had a team-high eight catches for 117 yards in New England's 28-13 AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but he also had a drop on a key third down in the second half.

Welker became the first player in NFL history with five 110-catch seasons and has averaged 112 receptions during his six seasons with the Patriots.