- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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PHOENIX -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft blasted the agents for wide receiver Wes Welker on Monday, blaming them for Welker's defection to the Denver Broncos in an unusually revealing interview at the NFL's annual meeting.
"Everyone in our organization wanted Wes Welker back," Kraft told reporters. "Anyone who doubts that, or thinks we weren't serious, just doesn't get it. 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. I really believe in this case, his agents misrepresented 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."
Kraft's fiery remarks, which were out of character for the normally tight-lipped Patriots organization, were directed at David Dunn and Brian Murphy of Athletes First, whom Welker had hired in 2009, two seasons after joining the Patriots.
Kraft also directly addressed reports that suggested Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was upset at the Patriots for letting Welker get away, which he dismissed as false.
Asked if he had spoken to Brady, or felt compelled to speak with him about Welker's defection because Brady had restructured his contract to create more salary cap space for the team, Kraft said, "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.
"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. Whoever is creating that impression is mistaken."
Asked if Brady was upset, Kraft responded, "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."
Welker agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract with the Broncos last Wednesday, on the second day of free agency. The Patriots' last offer to Welker before free agency was two years for $10 million, with incentives that could have increased it to $16 million, according to Kraft.
In a conversation with Comcast SportsNet New England at the NFL's annual meeting, Dunn, Welker's agent, said the Patriots never made an offer.
Kraft called Dunn's contention "bogus."
"It just isn't true," remarked Kraft, who had red marks on his nose, cheek and lip, which he said came from the removal of pre-cancerous tissue.
Kraft went into detail of the timeline that led to Welker ultimately signing with the Broncos and the Patriots quickly turning to St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola to replace him, while also contending that the Patriots' last offer to Welker was better than the deal he received with the Broncos.
"Wes Welker, just to be very clear, was our first choice to be with the team," he said in a question-and-answer session with reporters that became testy at one point. "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 [Belichick] 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 [Rob Gronkowski], you have [Aaron] 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. I'm very sad about it and I wish he would have been with our team."
Early Tuesday morning, the Athletes First agency responded to Kraft's comments in a statement to NFL.com. The statement took issue with a few of Kraft's assertions.
"Specifically, both sides are clear that the Patriots made one offer to Wes Welker since the prior negotiations ended in July 2012," the statement read. "Both sides also agree that this two-year offer came just hours before the start of free agency despite discussions that began at the NFL Combine. Moreover, this lone offer was presented as a 'take it or leave it offer.' When we asked if there was room for structural changes, we were told no. We made a counter offer for the same term and same maximum dollar amount as their offer and it was rejected. We inquired if any of the offer's components were negotiable and were told no. This refusal to actually negotiate made it easy to reject the Patriots offer. Nevertheless, when we received the Denver Broncos' offer, Wes personally talked to Mr. Kraft to give the Patriots the opportunity to match it. The Patriots rejected this opportunity and Wes signed with the Denver Broncos.
"Despite Mr. Kraft's impression to the contrary, the Patriots representatives who participated in these phone calls never indicated that the team 'would have even gone up' on their offer, or that these discussions occurred 'before we thought we were going into free agency.' Instead, the Patriots made it abundantly clear that their one offer was non-negotiable. Athletes First has no issue with this approach and casts no blame on either side for a deal not being consummated. However, we believe it is important that the negotiations are accurately portrayed in the media."
Last week, sources from both sides of the negotiating table told ESPNBoston.com that finding common ground in negotiations had been a challenge. On one side was the feeling that Welker's camp would only accept a three-year term at an average of $8 million per season. On the other side was a belief that the Patriots had basically made one offer and weren't willing to tweak the incentives to try to make them more reasonable to reach.
The Patriots have found common ground with Dunn and Murphy in the past, most recently striking a contract extension for tight end Aaron Hernandez last year. There are six players on the current Patriots roster represented by Dunn and Murphy -- Hernandez, defensive end Jake Bequette, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, punter Zoltan Mesko, offensive tackle Nate Solder and running back Shane Vereen.
"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," Kraft said Monday.
"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."
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was unusually revealing Monday in lamenting receiver Wes Welker's defection to the Denver Broncos, saying the team wanted the receiver back and placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Welker's agents.