- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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The Patriots secured their franchise player for three more years in signing quarterback Tom Brady to a $27 million contract extension on Monday that affords the team immediate salary cap flexibility.
That bodes well for a team that, despite being over $15 million under the projected NFL salary cap entering the start of the 2013 league year, has critical decisions to make on notable free agents.
As sources indicated to colleague Mike Reiss, Brady's willingness to sign the team-friendly deal was due in part to the fact that he believed the money saved would be put toward adding personnel to improve the team's chances of winning.
That brings us to the player that was unable to strike a long-term deal of his own last offseason: Wes Welker.
The ultra-productive slot receiver is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and after 118 more catches in 2012, it's undeniable that he has good football left in the tank.
Brady has long praised Welker as one the toughest and best teammates he's ever had, and it would stand to reason that he wants the 31-year-old back in New England for next season and beyond.
Though the Patriots and Welker were unable to strike a long-term pact last offseason, owner Robert Kraft reaffirmed following the season that the team wants him to be a part of its future.
How much the team is willing to pay for him and for how many years is unclear, but the deal signed by Brady gives New England more flexibility to approach Welker on contract talks.
Brady's deal runs through 2017, and he'll finish that season at the age of 40. That's a five-year window to compete with the greatest player in franchise history.
Can Welker remain effective for five more seasons? There's no sure way to tell, as is the case with every NFL player. But considering what he's meant to the team during his time in New England and his sensational blend of quickness, route-running, toughness and run-after-catch ability, it's easy to make the case to bring him back into the fold.
With more cap room to work with, does the likelihood of a new deal for Welker increase? One would think yes, and that is something that would probably make Brady a happy quarterback.
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