Where will Welker, Patriots go from here?

In a move that was expected weeks ago, the New England Patriots finally beat the 4 p.m. ET deadline Monday to put the franchise tag on leading receiver Wes Welker. He is scheduled to earn about $9.4 million next season if a contract extension cannot be reached.

But where exactly will Welker and the Patriots go from here?

It is yet to be determined if Welker’s tag will stick next season. But reports indicate the Patriots are not close to reaching a long-term agreement with their best receiver. The franchise tag allows both sides plenty of time to continue to negotiate.

I can see both sides to keeping the tag or giving Welker an extension.

On one end, Welker is extremely productive, a hard worker and an overachiever. He defines many of the characteristics the Patriots look for in a player. Considering this, keeping Welker for three more years shouldn’t be a bad thing, right? It would also free up salary-cap space to chase other big free agents.

But on the other end, Welker will be 31 in May. He’s coming off his best statistical year with 122 receptions for 1,569 yards. But the Patriots are probably asking, can Welker continue that kind of production next season and beyond? Giving Welker a contract worth $9-10 million per season until his mid 30s may not be in the Patriots’ best interest.

The best thing about the franchise tag is both sides will have until the late summer to work this out. The Welker-Patriots offseason story is far from finished. But the tag at least guarantees the Patriots' best receiver will remain in New England in 2012.