Time is ticking on Patriots, Wes Welker

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Wes Welker wants a long-term contract extension, but it's the New England Patriots who hold all the cards. That is pretty much what it boils down to with Welker's contract situation.

Despite a recent extension for Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, there has been "no meaningful progress" on contract talks with Welker, a source told the AFC East blog Thursday. Welker is scheduled to play on a one-year franchise tag worth $9.5 million in 2012.

Time is ticking for the Patriots and Welker. The deadline for working out an extension for players with the franchise tag is July 16. Perhaps the Patriots will have a change of heart over the next month or so. But things aren't looking good as of mid-June.

Earlier this month, we wrote that New England probably has to choose between two of its big three pass-catchers: Welker, Gronkowski and tight end Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots chose Gronkowski first, which was the right move. But the hard part is figuring out whom to keep long term between Welker and Hernandez. Keeping all three beyond 2013 would tie up a lot of salary-cap room on players who have fairly similar roles.

Welker is New England's best receiver but he's 31. Hernandez, 22, is nine years younger with less wear and tear, but New England already has an elite tight end. Welker will become an unrestricted free agent in 2013. Hernandez has two years left on his rookie contract, but the Patriots would probably give him a raise by 2013 as well.

The good news for New England is it doesn't have to make that choice right now. The Patriots have the trio in the fold this season at salaries they are comfortable with. We will know more about New England's future intentions with Welker after July 16.