AFC East: contract

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.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday morning in the AFC East:
  • The Buffalo Bills new-look 4-3 defense will be on the attack.
Morning take: The key to a successful 4-3 is the defensive line, and that's the strength of the Bills. Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are as formidable a group as you will find.
Morning take: Wake is a good player, but this is more in line with Wake's true value. Many Dolphins fans were upset when I said the original report of four years at $49 million was too much. The Dolphins would agree.
Morning take: I don't think anyone is surprised. It's another example of "Gronk being Gronk."

Morning take: Devito was hurt last season and the team drafted Quinton Coples in the first round as his replacement. Devito will be the first defensive end off the bench.