- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHOENIX -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft answered questions from reporters at the NFL annual meeting on Monday afternoon, and he provided details on Wes Welker’s defection to the Denver Broncos. The detail was uncharacteristic for the normally tight-lipped Patriots organization.
This is the complete Q&A, specific to Welker-related questions and answers:
A lot of people are curious what your reaction is to Wes signing with the Broncos?
“We usually don’t talk about contracts, but I’d like to clear up what I think is some misconceptions about the Wes situation. I’ll go into limited financial details. You know, everyone in our organization wanted Wes Welker back. Anyone who doubts that, or thinks we weren’t serious, just doesn’t get it. I’ve owned the team 19 years and I’ve known in the end we have to have certain limits and restraints. Like I’ve said many times, I really wanted Wes to be with us through the rest of his career, but it takes two sides to do a deal. The only person in my life who had unlimited financial ability to do whatever they wanted was my late, sweet wife. Everything else has boundaries.
“In Wes’ case, we were willing to go what we considered above his market value. For a couple years, we tried to get a long-term deal done with him. We couldn’t do a deal and we wound up franchising him at a very high number [$9.5 million]. In retrospect, I wish we could have wrapped that into an arrangement where it was part of a longer-term deal. But I really believe in this case, his agents misrepresented, in their mind, what his market value was. When you come right down to the bottom line, he accepted a deal in Denver which is less money than what we offered him. In fact, he has a one-year deal in Denver for $6 million. Our last offer, before we would have even gone up and before we thought we were going into free agency, was a $10 million offer with incentives that would have earned him another $6 million if he performed the way he had the previous two years. But in Denver, he’s going to count $4 million against the cap this coming year and $8 million the second year. There is no guarantee that he plays the second year there. He will get $6 million the first year. Our deal, he would have gotten $8 million the first year – our last offer to him.
“So in fact, our offer was better than what in fact he got from Denver. I’m just really sad about that. Everyone in our organization, including our head coach – I sat in a number of meetings, we discussed this very carefully. Just to clear up any misconception, we wanted Wes back.
“But in the end, in my early years, I used to emotionally react to having players stay with the team, and sometimes we went beyond our financial disciplines. Then the fall came and we played football, and we didn’t win all the games we wanted, and I can just tell you that feeling is horrible. I’m going to do everything I can, always, to avoid that.
“You know, we had two situations that were unique like that – one was Wes Welker, and the other was Tom Brady. We’ve been working for a number of years on the Brady situation. As another example, it could have gone the wrong way. I’m happy that was able to work out, but I still feel very bad. Wes Welker, just to be very clear, was our first choice to be with the team.
“When free agency came, and his agents kept on insisting on a very high number that was beyond our number, we had to go work alternatives. Our second alternative was Danny Amendola. He had offers from other teams. So we made a judgment that Wes, unfortunately probably wouldn’t be with us. We made this commitment to Amendola.
“Wednesday, I personally got a call from Wes and he told me about this offer from Denver. He called Bill as well. We met and we chatted. We have a lot of people, we’ve committed a lot of money to this inside position – you have Gronk, you have Hernandez, you have Danny [Amendola] now – it was just unfortunately a little bit too late.
“If he had called one day earlier, he would have been with us. And so that, is the Wes Welker story. I’m very sad about it and I wish he would have been with our team.”
You mentioned that the demands on their side, before free agency, were high. Can you provide context?
“I’m not going to go into it. It was a substantial gap, way beyond. If he had come to us and said ‘the gap was the $2 million’ – which on the surface everyone believes that’s what it is – that would have been closed in a second. I really think, and I’m not saying … he has a great agent but I think they way overvalued; as they should. Their incentive – they don’t really care about the New England Patriots. They care about getting the best financial deal for their client they can get. I understand that. Their compensation is based on that and they want to attract other clients. In the end, our job is to look out to put the New England Patriots in the best position to win continuously. And I think in the last 19 years, I’m pretty proud that we have the best won-loss record of any team in the NFL. In 19 years, we’ve gone to six Super Bowls. I think our modus operandi has been OK. On the other hand, I think this is a situation that we really wanted to happen with Wes and it’s very unfortunate.”
There has been a persistent contention by David Dunn that there was never an offer. …
Did you hear what I said?
“OK, there was an offer, and that’s just bogus.”
Correct, and that’s my question. Why would they continue to make that claim?
“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him. You seem to have a good relationship talking with him, so why doesn’t he fill you in what he means? Because it just isn’t true.”
When did you have an idea of what Wes Welker’s value was to you – the contract?
“Here’s the other thing, let me give you all some context, because if I’m a fan, I say to Kraft, to [Bill] Belichick, to Nick [Caserio], to everyone – ‘You have to sign Wes, you have to do whatever it takes to get it done.' So let me tell you what’s happened in the NFL this year. The top 25 players have received $700 million. How many Pro Bowls do any of you think, cumulatively, those 25 players have gone to? Anyone have a guess?
“Six. So cumulatively, the players that got $700 [million] – 25 players – that tells you that the trend is going to signing young, up-and-coming players. There were 52 starters – and a starter is someone who plays more than eight games who have been cut this year – and 41 of them are over 30 years old. I don’t think this has ever happened the same way in the league. I understand it. I was involved with the labor committee that did the labor deal. I knew the cap was going to be tight; it’s part of the reason we worked so hard on the Brady deal, so we didn’t get in a squeeze, and we got it done and created some room so we could build a team. Unfortunately, we couldn’t just give Wes whatever he wanted. We had to try to give him what the market was willing to pay him. I really believe we were slightly above the market. At the same time, we know we have to improve our defense if we want to compete to make it to the playoffs. That’s what we’ve done. Unfortunately, Wes was a casualty – both sides weren’t able to get it done. It takes two sides to get a deal done.”
My question is if you have a fixed value on Wes, which turns out to be right, why wait until Monday to do it? Why not do it, out of respect 3, 4 weeks earlier and say, ‘Look, you’re way up here and we’re way down here. This is our last offer. If you don’t like it, good luck to you.’ How come that didn’t happen?
“I’m not going to get in to … we made it very clear for two years, there has been a very high demand, which you can see was way above [market] – they were working on the emotional part of it. Look, Wes Welker is a guy I forever will be grateful for; he does everything that we want. He’s just everything we want. But in the end, there is a certain financial discipline everyone has to have. Let me say it again clearly – we wanted him, and we were willing to pay him slightly above what we believed his market value to be, and in fact, what it is. We in fact did it. If you look at what he accepted, and what was out there. The unfortunate part, the agent is playing poker with us, we have to decide. Are we going to be left completely naked here? Or do we go out and do the best job we can do to fill that position with the information we have available to us? And that’s what we did. Time will tell what was right.”
Why wait? Is there a competitive reason?
“No, no, no. We did … I think we have a pretty good history. In the end, this is a business of wins and losses. But think about it, the last offer we made him, and we were willing to go up from that, was greater – he would have gotten $8 million the first year from us. In this deal he accepted, he’s getting $6 million. He counts $4 million against the cap up in Denver and he’ll account $8 million next year. In another year, when it’s going to be a tight cap, that’s a lot of money. I don’t know. We, in fact, offered him a better deal.”
Have you spoken, or felt compelled to speak, with Tom Brady about what went down and how this happened?
“I don’t answer to Tom Brady. He’s an important member of the team and we’ve chatted. He did what he did to put us in the best position to build a team around him and win games. We’ve chatted about it. But he has never … it has been reported that he, or people close to him, have made certain comments. None of that is true. I’ve spoken with him directly. Whomever is creating that impression is mistaken.”
Is he upset?
“No. I mean, we’re all upset that he’s not with us. But we’re building a team. He never put a demand or expected anything when he did what he did. He never put quid pro quos, and to be honest, we wouldn’t have accepted them had he done that. He did what he thought … and what he did was tremendous. It’s given our team a real competitive advantage to be in a position to win. And now it’s how well our personnel people make the decisions.”
Was Welker the toughest player to see go?
“In the recent past, yes. There were some situations early on. But yeah, Welker leaving – no one wanted it. Everyone in the Patriots wanted him to be with us. He’s just so unique and so special. We wish him well, except when he plays us. I guess we’ll have pretty good ratings in that game.”
It has been rare to hear this type of detail from you on a contract. Why?
“Because I think there is a lot of misconceptions. I think how our coach felt. How I felt. I don’t get involved very often. This was one that was really important. Like I always say, and Brady’s situation, we had been working on that for four years. Wes, I used to speak to him in the locker room and say, ‘You and I have to be smart here to make both sides make it happen.’ The agents are doing their job and trying to do the best job they can. But I just think it was a miscalculation of value here, and playing poker, and unfortunately the player and the team both got hurt.”
(More to come, including context of what Kraft means by saying Welker's contract in Denver is a one-year deal.)