- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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A Hail Mary remains possible, but as of late Saturday night the expectation is the New England Patriots and receiver Wes Welker will not reach a contract extension by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline for franchise-tagged players.
A source close to Welker said that as of Saturday dialogue between the sides wasn't overly active. The source said that at this point, it would be a surprise if an extension was reached, but cautioned that things always could shift as the deadline approaches.
The sides have been negotiating on and off since last season, so the framework for a potential extension is in place should talks spark over the next two days. That potentially could help Welker and the team beat Monday's deadline despite the current lack of momentum in negotiations. But, it might be wishful thinking for those hoping for an extension that likely would be in the three-year range.
Franchise-tagged players who don't reach an extension by Monday's deadline have to play the 2012 season under their one-year tender. For Welker, that's a $9.5 million fully guaranteed deal, which he's already signed. The sides then couldn't finalize an extension until after the 2012 season, when Welker would be scheduled for unrestricted free agency.
At that point, the Patriots could once again place the franchise tag on Welker, for $11.4 million. But with the salary cap projected to remain flat, and quarterback Tom Brady's 2013 cap charge scheduled to come in at around $22 million, the depth-driven Patriots might be reluctant to devote what could be 25 percent of their salary cap to two players. If that's the case, Welker could hit the open market, potentially making 2012 his final season with the Patriots.
Welker, who turned 31 on May 1, has shown no signs of slowing down and remains a vital part of the team's attack even with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez emerging as stars. He finished with a career-high 1,569 receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions in 2011, his impressive work after the catch annually making him one of the NFL's toughest receivers to tackle.
In 2011, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Welker played out the final season of the five-year deal he signed with the Patriots when he was acquired in a trade from the Miami Dolphins. The value of that deal was $18 million, not including incentives, which at the time was viewed by some as overspending by the Patriots before quickly becoming one of the NFL's best bargains. At one point in 2011, Brady called Welker the "heart and soul" of the team.
That might be part of Welker's thinking, the viewpoint that he outplayed his prior deal and also came back quickly from ACL surgery in 2010, which should be a consideration at the negotiating table. Also, no receiver has caught more passes than Welker since 2007, his 554 receptions easily outdistancing Brandon Marshall (474), Reggie Wayne (472) and Roddy White (471), although some of those catches could be viewed as running plays because they were caught so close to the line of scrimmage.
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