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Should Pats worry about Welker's cap hit?

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported over the weekend the New England Patriots are expected to put the franchise tag on leading receiver Wes Welker. The move includes a $9.5 million salary and cap hit for New England in 2012.

The Patriots will continue to negotiate a long-term contract with Welker over the next six months. But should the team worry about Welker’s large cap hit during the negotiations? New England entered the offseason with more cap space than any team in the AFC East. But Welker near $10 million hit would take up a big chunk of it.

New England still has plenty of time to work out an extension with Welker that provides an up-front bonus and a salary less than $9.5 million, which is more cap friendly. A $4.5 million salary, for example, could save New England $5 million against the cap for 2012. That’s enough to fit at least one very good player on the roster.

Welker will turn 31 on May 1. The Patriots likely don’t want to sign the veteran receiver for more than three or four years. But the plus side to working out an extension sooner than later would be the extra cap room to strengthen your team in other areas, particularly New England’s 31st-ranked defense.