- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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As analysts dissect the upcoming NFL free agency period, it's like a deja vu all over again when it comes to the Patriots and Wes Welker. Just like last year, Welker's status is considered a top league-wide storyline.
Let's gather some opinions on Welker.
Polian -- Welker an option in 2-to-3-year range. On Tuesday's ESPN "NFL Live" program, former Colts president Bill Polian commented on Welker, who rates as one of his tier-A free agents. "He's incredibly productive. He's incredibly tough. He can return punts. He's a playmaker. He's savvy. He's smart. He's been durable. But he's 32 years of age," Polian opined. "This is a guy who if he does not stay with New England -- and they would not give him a long-term contract last year -- I would look for him to go to a contending team. Lots of people say Miami; I'm not sure about that. I think there are other teams that would say to themselves, 'This is a guy that we won't get full value if we give him a four-year contract. But within the next two, maybe three years, he can put us over the top. I think there will be people out there bidding for him."
Casserly -- 'not a lot of options' for Welker. In a video posted on NFL.com from NFL Network's "Total Access" program, Charley Casserly views the Patriots as Welker's best fit. "I don't think he has a lot of options, certainly not at the money [$9.5 million] he made last year," Casserly says. "What he is, is a slot receiver, a clever guy underneath." Casserly, who called Welker "somewhat of a system guy", mentions Denver as one possibility. Fellow NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest, in the same video, was in agreement with Casserly.
Jeremiah -- Welker one of riskiest free agents. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout, pinpointed Welker as one of the NFL's riskiest free agents (video here). "You look at him in that offense, with that quarterback, he's a perfect fit in the slot for the New England Patriots. I don't know that the skill set necessarily travels to all offenses," he says. "He's a little bit dependent on the system. I think you get in trouble if you pay him too much money."
Light -- have to take care of the 'heart and soul.' In an appearance on Comcast SportsNet's "Sports Tonight" program on Tuesday (video here), former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light called Welker the "heart and soul" of the team. "You have to find a way to make him right," Light says. "I think he made really good money last year -- you can't argue that fact ... at some point, you have to say, 'just do the right thing for the guy; he's been there long enough.'"
Freeman -- Welker is 'most underrated player in football.' CBSSports.com National NFL insider Mike Freeman writes on some of the big-name receivers in free agency (link here), and says this of Welker, "[He] is the most underrated player in all of football and has been for several years. If Welker doesn't stay in New England, there would be a slew of teams waiting to sign him." Freeman doesn't envision the Patriots placing the $11.4 million franchise tag on Welker.