Laying out the Wes Welker/Patriots stalemate from both perspectives:
Welker’s viewpoint: The Patriots have an offer on the table for him to return, but it’s not enticing enough to sign. This is a U-turn from February and early March, when there was a growing sense of optimism that the sides were coming closer (somewhere along the way, there was a breakdown, or the widespread reports of progress in talks was way overstated). So the idea is to test the market and see if there is a better offer out there from another team. In doing so, he has to be willing to walk away from New England because other teams aren’t going to want to feel leveraged to get a better deal out of the Patriots. That’s Welker’s right and he’s earned it. No one can fault him for doing what is best for him and his family, especially after everything he’s given the Patriots over the last six years. Welker has seen teammates go through similar struggles in negotiations (e.g. Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins), so he knows the drill.
Patriots’ viewpoint: The club has made an offer to Welker that it feels reflects his market value, although details of it are not known. Last year, the Patriots were offering a two-year, $16 million deal that was fully guaranteed, according to the Boston Globe. In 2012, the club paid Welker a one-year salary of $9.5 million on the franchise tag. This year, with Welker set to turn 32, the Patriots elected to forgo paying him $11.4 million on a one-year franchise tag. So it seems fair to project that whatever the Patriots are offering is somewhere in the $7.5-9.5 million range per year, depending on the length of the deal and guarantees. At a time when the market is described as “soft” by some in the NFL, with some free agents receiving reduced offers from what they were presented last year, you could envision the Patriots putting the reported two-year, fully guaranteed $16 million deal back on the table for Welker with the thinking that it remains a solid compromise. If the Patriots really want Welker, as owner Robert Kraft said Monday, anything lower than that would be a strange way of showing it.
QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: It has been widely assumed that Welker will return to New England, but as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter said on SportsCenter on Wednesday morning, one should be careful assuming anything at this point. There is a difference of opinion, and the Patriots seem willing to let the market be the tiebreaker. If Welker can do better on the market, they’re willing to lose him. If Welker can’t, they would like him back at their price. The “at their price” is the key. That’s why the football is now in Welker’s hands, and his representatives, to spark league-wide interest and see if the Patriots might budge in the spirit of compromise that Kraft himself spoke about Tuesday.