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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Wes Welker's value seemingly on rise

By Mike Reiss
ESPNBoston.com

New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker does not have the long-term contract he desires, but on the first day of free agency, he might have gained something else -- reassurance of his value in the NFL marketplace.

Did you see all those contracts for receivers across the league?

In Tampa Bay, Vincent Jackson inked a reported five-year, $55.5 million pact. In Washington, the Redskins doubled up with Pierre Garcon (five years, $42.5 million) and Josh Morgan (two years, $12 million), while Marques Colston re-signed with New Orleans (five years, $40 million) and Reggie Wayne did the same in Indianapolis (three years, $17.5 million). Then late Tuesday, Robert Meachem agreed to a reported four-year, $25.9 million pact with the San Diego Chargers.

While the structure of those contracts is vital to understanding their true value, on the surface, that's $193.4 million spent on six top receivers on the first day of free agency.

Then consider that the Chicago Bears traded two third-round draft choices for No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall, and the opening of free agency was all about the wideout.

If you're Welker, who has caught more passes than any player in the NFL over the past five seasons, the deals set the framework for where contract talks would hopefully lead.

The Patriots' offer of two years for $16 million during the 2011 season, as reported by the Boston Globe, looks light based on present market conditions for a top receiver. Welker's $9.5 million franchise tag, although on a one-year term, fits more in line with pass-catchers at his level of performance on an average-per-year basis.

Meanwhile, the early movement with receivers has thinned the market, with Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham and Laurent Robinson three of the top remaining unsigned targets. If the Patriots view Lloyd as a priority, as has been widely reported, it's possible they'll have to move quickly to close the deal. (Lloyd is expected to visit the San Francisco 49ers, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.)

But are the financial numbers altered by the Day 1 deals?

On a day when the Patriots didn't make a big splash, that was the biggest takeaway from the start of free agency -- receivers ruled the day.

As for the Patriots' work, it was mostly in-house stuff. An agreement with special teams captain Matthew Slater is expected Wednesday, according to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton, and the team extended the contract of linebacker Niko Koutouvides -- primarily a special teamer -- through 2012. Deals for linebacker Tracy White and safety James Ihedigbo might not be far behind.

Those types of moves generally don't generate much sizzle with the fan base, which is in contrast to what was unfolding in western New York with the Buffalo Bills hosting defensive lineman Mario Williams, who is widely viewed as the top player on the market. The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999 and have to get through the Tom Brady-led Patriots in the AFC East, so perhaps they view Williams as the player who can finally get them over the hump.

No other Patriots player who was on the open market was known to take a visit, although Yahoo! Sports reported that running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was drawing interest from multiple teams and the expectation was a deal in the range of $3-4 million per year. That could be too rich for the Patriots, who have Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen -- high draft picks last year -- possibly ready to assume more of the load.

The Kansas City Chiefs, who some felt would be a natural fit for Green-Ellis, are scheduled to host free-agent running back Mike Tolbert on Wednesday. That could affect their potential interest in Green-Ellis.

Elsewhere, all was quiet when it came to defensive end Mark Anderson, who totaled 10 regular-season sacks and added 2.5 more in the playoffs. The longer that goes, one would think, improves the Patriots' chances of re-signing him.

Meanwhile, center Dan Koppen, a starter since 2003, hit the open market for the first time in his career. His backup, Dan Connolly, also is a free agent but there were indications that progress had been made in talks with the team.

But in the end, the story of the day was the big deals for the receivers.

For the Patriots, who assigned the franchise tag to Welker and have other questions at the position, the turn of events was eye-opening.