Crafting a Welker deal for both sides

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
11:00
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In January of 2010, when negotiations between the Patriots and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork on a long-term contract extension were about to heat up, the situation was viewed from an independent perspective to "craft a contract that worked for both sides."

Now, the idea is to do the same with the Patriots and receiver Wes Welker.

Term: 4 years (Through 2015)

Total value: $34.5 million

Guarantees and bonuses: $22 million (The most important part of any deal)

How the numbers were computed: Much like Vince Wilfork’s situation, this is a challenging negotiation because there is no true comparable to Welker. He is a unique receiver. He’s more than a slot guy (e.g. 99-yard TD catch-and-run vs. Miami), but it wouldn’t be accurate to refer to him as a pass-catcher who consistently threatens the deep part of the field. No receiver has caught more passes over the last five years, but at the same time, some of those catches are glorified running plays closer to the line of scrimmage. The two contracts that help provide a general negotiating ballpark are Brandon Marshall (5 years, $56 million, $25 bonuses/guarantees) and Santonio Holmes (5 years, $45 million, with $22.5 bonuses/guarantees). The proposed deal also factors in franchise tag leverage that seems to give the Patriots the upper hand.

Benefits of extension for Patriots: Instead of using the $9.4 million franchise tag this year, and then possibly using it at a higher figure on Welker in 2013 (potentially $11.28 million), this four-year pact helps spread the money over time and lowers Welker’s salary cap charges. That’s a double victory – freeing up money to sign other players and keeping your most productive receiver who shows no signs of slowing down.

Benefits of extension for Welker: He more than doubles his money today ($22 million in bonuses/guarantees) when compared to the franchise tag ($9.4 million on one-year term). He also shifts the risk back to the team side that he will remain healthy, and continues to work with quarterback Tom Brady through the duration of Brady's own deal (2014).

Why this deal works for the Patriots: Part of the concern with Welker is age. He turns 31 on May 1 and it’s a challenge to project if he will still be at a top level in the final years of this deal, especially given some of the big hits he takes. So in exchange for a four-year term that includes the $22 million in bonuses/guarantees, Welker’s average per year ($8.625 million) falls below the Marshall and Holmes deals. That’s part of the compromise.

Why this deal works for Welker: To lock in $22 million today, which is more than the total value of the 5-year deal Welker signed with the Patriots in 2007, is smart business. Yes, the average of $8.625 million per season is lower than deals for Marshall and Holmes, but those players were in their mid-20s when they signed those pacts. That's part of the compromise.

Conclusion: At the end of the day, the only way to fairly analyze the situation between Welker and the Patriots is to know the answers to the following questions: 1) What are the Patriots willing to offer? 2) What is Welker looking for in a long-term deal? Until those answers come to light, it is challenging to come to a conclusion one way or the other. So in this case, my feeling is that this would be a fair middle ground. If the Patriots aren’t willing to go there, they should soften their stance. If Welker is seeking more, he should soften his stance.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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