Kraft blamed Welker's reps -- David Dunn and Brian Murphy of Athletes First -- for the ex-Patriot's defection from New England, contending they misread the market for his client in a fiery interview with reporters at the NFL's annual meetings in Phoenix on Monday afternoon. Kraft said the deal Welker ended up signing with the Broncos was actually worth less (in guaranteed money) than what he was offering, but by the time the receiver gave New England a chance to beat the offer, the Patriots had moved on to Plan B -- Danny Amendola.
"Wes Welker, just to be very clear, was our first choice to be with the team," Kraft said. "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."
The statement from Athletes First released to NFL.com contended that the Patriots made just one offer to Welker and that it was a "take it or leave it" proposition that left them no alternative but to go on the free-agent market and shop for a deal elsewhere.
"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."
Given the opportunity to respond later Tuesday morning, Patriots coach Bill Belichick deferred to Kraft's comments from Monday.
"I think Wes was everything we hoped we would be when we traded for him [in 2007]," Belichick said at the AFC coach's breakfast. "He was tough, competitive and very productive. I think what Robert [Kraft] said yesterday covered it pretty thoroughly. I don't have anything to add to that."
Welker agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract with the Broncos on Wednesday, 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.
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 accept only 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.
Kraft said that the gap between what the Patriots were offering and what Welker was seeking was "substantial" and added that if Welker had come to the team sooner with a deal that was $2 million more than New England was offering (which is what the Broncos deal was) the team would have closed that gap "in a second."
"If he had called one day earlier, he would have been with us," Kraft said. "I'm very sad about it and I wish he would have been with our team."
Welker's agency took exception to that version of events.
"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,'" the statement read. "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."
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.
"Mr. Kraft is an exceptional NFL owner with a track record of not only fielding championship teams, but also helping make the National Football League the tremendous league that it is today," the conclusion of the agency's statement read. "It is a league that absolutely sparks passion amongst its fan base and that passion was evident yesterday from the lifelong Patriots fan Mr. Kraft. Once the frustrations settle down, however, we hope both sides will focus not upon what went wrong, but instead everything Wes did right on and off the field during his time with the Patriots. That Wes deserves a lengthy standing ovation when he returns to Foxboro Stadium with the Denver Broncos is one conclusion upon which both sides can readily agree."
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss was used in this report.