Stumped by the Welker standoff

There is a lot of Wes Welker follow-up in this week's Patriots mailbag. The sides couldn't reach a contract extension by Monday's deadline for franchise-tagged players, and reaction is mixed.

Some e-mailers are disappointed in the Patriots. Others pin it on Welker and his agents.
The debate is a big part of what makes sports fun.

The countdown to training camp is on, with the first public practice scheduled for Thursday, July 26. ESPNBoston.com has exciting coverage plans for the 2012 season that we'll pass along over the next week.
Here we go:

Q. Welker catches the pass in the Super Bowl, the Patriots beat the Giants, Welker gets his contract. Didn't and won't happen. Your thoughts? -- Griff T. (Winchester, Va.)

A. Griff, I don't buy into that line of thinking. When it comes to contracts, I mostly think the Patriots project the future and pay for what they believe the player will produce. I don't think they compute the numbers based on what happened in the past, and if they do, it would only be a slight consideration (e.g. Logan Mankins playing for a prorated portion of restricted free-agent tender in 2010). There is obviously going to be some cross-over -- past performance can be a factor in projecting future performance -- but I don't think one Super Bowl play would make that much of a difference. More than anything, my feeling on the Super Bowl missed connection with Tom Brady and Wes Welker is that if the play was made, there would be a bit more public outcry from followers in favor of Welker.

Q. Hey Mike, can you shed some insight as to how far apart the Pats and Welker were? If it was a matter of just a couple million, why couldn't/didn't they try to split the difference and give him a larger signing bonus. I think they both would agree he outplayed his last contract, so pay him for that while also not taking a larger hit on salary-cap issues in coming years. Thanks, the season can't start soon enough! -- Peter (Virginia Beach)

A. Peter, I'd estimate they were about $4 million apart on guarantees/bonues, but that's just a guess. I'm surprised they couldn't strike a deal, because I believe Welker wants to be here and that the Patriots want him here. In the end, we'll see who was right -- the Patriots or Welker and his representatives at Athletes First. I understand both sides' business positions. It's just hard for me to have strong feelings without having a better feel of the numbers being negotiated. I think a fair compromise would be a similar deal to what Randy Moss signed in 2008 -- three years, $27 million, around $18 million to $20 million in bonuses/guarantees.

Q. I've read a lot of analysis on the Welker contract situation and I can see both sides: 1. Welker being one of the most "product" oriented WRs; 2. The Patriots perhaps not wanting to pay a lot for a slot receiver. The thing that doesn't add up to me is that they are willing to pay him $9.5 million this year with the franchise tag, but aren't looking to guarantee $20 million over three years (say an overall $23 million, 3-year deal). We agree they won't franchise him at $11.4m next year, which means that if they want him, they'll compete on the open market that will probably be at least $8 million, especially with what receivers signed this year. So the Patriots would already be into Welker for some $17.5 million in two years if they are to pay the franchise tag this year and compete for him on the open market next year. That would leave the third year at about $6m, which doesn't seem unreasonable, even factoring in a drop off in production. My point is: If the Patriots are already in for $9.5 million for one year, doesn't it make it easier to give a three-year deal that's only about 2.5 times that? -- PatsFanBrian (San Mateo, Calif.)

A, Brian, this makes sense to me and I think it would be a fair deal for both sides. From a team perspective, perhaps they have doubts about Welker in 2013 and beyond, and believe he's close to his "expiration date." So if that's the case, the team might be more comfortable going on a year-to-year basis with Welker, shifting the risk to his side of the negotiating table to make it through the 2012 season healthy while playing at a high level. The team might end up paying more in the end, but it would be managing the risk more conservatively if things head in the wrong direction.

Q. Hi Mike, thanks for the link to Mike Freeman's column on CBSSports.com. I read it, but did not agree with it. First, as there were no quotes from Welker, I'm guessing that any statement such as "...trust that one day the Patriots would take care of him" is Freeman trying to read Welker's mind. Are you aware of whether or not Freeman has ever spoken to Welker? As with Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and maybe Logan Mankins before, while there may not be a meeting of the minds as of yet, I can't imagine there is dishonesty or duplicity from either side, and therefore no basis for any broken trust at this stage of the game. Your thoughts? -- Paul (New Jersey)

A. Paul, I am not aware of that situation. Based on what has been out there publicly, with Welker tweeting he was taking a #leapoffaith by signing his franchise tender a few months ago, perhaps that is where the thought came from that Welker "hoped the Patriots would take care of him.' As for Brady, Wilfork and Mankins, and their negotiations, I think it's more business-related than dishonesty or duplicity, which are strong words. If things were in the latter category, I don't think Brady, Wilfork or Mankins would have signed their extensions. More than anything, I think they all understand the Patriots are tough negotiators. So, as much as possible, the goal is to separate the business from football and playing/winning.

Q. Mike, who is the driving force between the Pats' decision not to offer a longer-term contract to Wes Welker? The coach? Personnel department? Wouldn't a 3-year, $25 million or $26 million contact get it done? If Welker goes out and has a monster year (again) and they franchise him again, they will have ended up paying him around $21 million for two years anyway. By giving him 3-year deal, they get him a third year for $4 million to $5 million. -- Alan (Boston)

A. Alan, I think a three-year deal at those numbers, with $18 million to $20 million in bonuses/guarantees, would be fair. I'm not sure how it would be received on both sides of the negotiating table (might be light from Welker's perspective). As for the driving force in negotiations, the main factors are Bill Belichick (who is the coach and also final authority in the personnel department) and Welker and his representatives at Athletes First. Make no mistake, the Patriots made extension offers. So did Athletes First. But they just have a difference of opinion.

Q. Hey Mike, do you think Robert Kraft's image has taken a hit (both with the team and with the fans) with the recent audition video that hit the Internet, and now not being able to reach a long-term deal with one of the team's most popular (and best) players in Wes Welker? -- (Hartford, Conn.)

A. On the video, my main thought is that it seemed like Kraft didn't think it through. If he knew it was going to get released publicly, I can't imagine he would have done it, even though he thought actor Owen Wilson, who is a friend, would get a kick out of seeing him on the audition tape for his movie. But it happened and we're all accountable for our actions. Overall, I think Kraft has built up enough goodwill and credibility that's it's a minor blip. As for Welker, we've seen this before in terms of the Patriots and their negotiations. If anything, I think more people understand the team's thinking more now than they did in the past. They might not always agree with it, but they understand it. And the team's consistent won-loss track record helps in that regard.

Q. Hey Mike, I know we haven't even hit training camp yet, but what players do you think (rookies, FA's, or even vets) will be some to watch this year? Like Rob Gronkowski last year, obviously not the same level, but someone who is going to step up this year to a new level. -- Peter T. (Virginia Beach)

A. Peter, I'd focus on the two second-year running backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. The situation sets up nicely for them to emerge if they compete well in training camp. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis departing to the Bengals in free agency, there is a 34-percent playing time void to fill and those are the top two candidates to do so. Having been drafted high -- Ridley in the third round, Vereen in the second round -- it raises the expectation level a bit.

Q. Hey Mike, I was wondering why hasn't anyone been comparing this upcoming offense to the '07 record-breaking offense? I know that we haven't seen this offense in a true game yet, but if you look at the pieces that are in place this team has much more firepower on offense than the '07 team. No, there isn't a Randy Moss, but this team does have Gronk and Aaron Hernandez, plus Welker, Deion Branch, Jabbar Gaffney and a decent group of running backs that will split the load. Not to mention Julien Edelman and Donte Stallworth for depth. I think defenses will have an even tougher time defending this offense than they did in '07 because there are at least four players that require a great deal of attention on every play. You can't double them all, and with that fact I think this offense will be the hardest to stop in the league, period. Just wanted to get your thoughts on this, thanks. -- Ben (North Carolina)

A. Ben, I've seen some of those comparisons and I understand them. This offense could be lethal. Two thoughts come to mind when making the 2007 comparison. The first is that Randy Moss was on a mission that year, and given that he's a once-in-a-lifetime talent, it was a special combination. While the Patriots might have more weapons this year, that '07 version of Moss might actually make that unit more special when comparing them. And let's not forget the offensive line. There are some questions up front for the Patriots this season in my view (e.g. Matt Light retirement). If that doesn't come together, it will naturally reduce the impact of the talented skill-position players that are on the field.

Q. You've opined that the Patriots would like to see Ras-I Dowling win the starting CB spot opposite Devin McCourty so they can move Kyle Arrington to defend the slot. Why isn't Dowling the guy who will end up in the slot? My thinking is that Arrington was the best corner on the team last year, and Dowling's bigger frame is more suited to tackling in the run game and being physical with quick guys and TE/WR hybrid types off the line. Their roles will obviously be matchup/game-plan specific, but I think the second CB spot is Arrington's to lose. -- JraK (Dorchester)

A. I think the difficult part of projecting Dowling to the slot is that he is a little longer (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) and the matchup against the quicker, sometimes-smaller slot receivers might not play to his strengths. Also, when projecting which corners are more suited to tackling in the run game, I'd actually lean toward Arrington. While Dowling is longer, I think Arrington is the more physical player from what I've seen. From this view, size/length doesn't always equal physicality.

Q. Bear with me, as this question only tangentially involves the Patriots (their WR depth specifically). I was surprised to see the Browns use a 2nd-rounder in the supplemental draft on a receiver. A pick that high is not a throwaway by any means. It made me think about how it's likely the Patriots will have to cut some of their deep WR core by the end of camp. Do teams like the Browns who are desperate for WR help not want to wait? Or is it that our depth on paper is really not as good as it appears? -- Alex (Wakefield, Mass.)

A. Alex, I was surprised at the Browns' high pick as well. A challenging part about waiting for players to be cut is that you lose time for that player to learn the playbook. You also lose control, because you're never really sure which players might become available. As for the Patriots' depth at receiver, now that Anthony Gonzalez and Chad Ochocinco are no longer with the club, the numbers are thinned a bit. That position now looks solid, but not overstocked.

Q. With a wide-open competition for the safety spot beside Patrick Chung, why haven't the Patriots signed Jim Leonhard? From watching the Pats-Jets rivalry, he appears to be a smart, tough, and versatile player that has starting experience, something Steven Gregory doesn't have. Is it a health issue or faith in Gregory? -- Ryan (New Hampshire)

A. Ryan, I think it's both things you mentioned -- health and Gregory. Leonhard is coming off injury, and his former team, the Jets, focused on safety help in free agency and didn't re-sign him. That tells me something. Also, in Gregory, I think the Patriots have a smart player who fits their scheme, and complements Chung a bit better.

Q. Can you confirm reports that Gronk has been experimenting with a shrink-ray device and plans to play in the slot? Seriously though, I'm tired of all the "Julian Edelman-can-play" talk. If Edelman could bring even 50 percent of what Welker brings to the table, we would have been playing him over Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco last season. The truth is that the Patriots have already made moves to address Welker's departure in Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd. Next year I see them adding in the draft. -- Justin R. (Portsmouth, N.H.)

Justin, we view Julian Edelman differently, and I think that is part of the fun of what we do. We can have dissenting opinions and then we'll see who is right down the line. My feeling is that Edelman just needs more of an opportunity to show what he can do. Welker played 89 percent of the snaps last season, and because Edelman's style of play is similar to Welker's, he wasn't as good of a complement as some of the team's other options at receiver. I'm not saying Edelman is as good as Welker, but I wouldn't write him off just yet.

Q. Hi Mike, any word on whether Leigh Bodden is likely to end up on the Patriots -- or indeed any -- roster? -- Eamonn (Dublin, Ireland)

A. Eamonn, I wouldn't expect Bodden to be back with the Patriots. That didn't end the way the team hoped it would. As for Bodden playing anywhere, perhaps if a team has some injuries and needs help, he might get a look. But I wouldn't be surprised if he's played his last NFL game.

Q. Mike, I've been unable to login and submit a blog comment for over a week. Have I been banned? Mea Culpa. Please reinstate my status. -- vwr51 (Hill, N.H.)

A. You're not alone. We had some technical issues in early July. I had trouble posting for a while too. For those in a similar situation, you can re-register your screen name and should be OK.