Would Patriots franchise WR Wes Welker again?

Ten months ago, the word on the street was that the Patriots were thinking about franchising wideout Wes Welker, one of the league's most prolific pass-catchers since arriving in New England in 2007.

That's exactly what happened, and after early season speculation that the team could be phasing Welker out for Julian Edelman, the former undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech put up another 100-catch, 1,000-plus-yard effort, his fifth joining the Pats.

Welker will earn $9.5 million on the franchise tender this season, but that also means he's set to become an unrestricted free agent unless the Patriots sign him to a long-term deal or -- you guessed it -- franchise him again.

Welker was asked about his impending contract situation during a mid-week conference call with Jacksonville reporters and, not surprisingly, he wasn't interested in touching the subject (his employer wasn't super-psyched the last time Welker went off-script).

But ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss writes Sunday that "I see the Patriots assigning another franchise tag on Welker in the offseason because he's too valuable to let walk." But with this caveat: the tag will be $11.4 million for wide receivers and that, coupled with Tom Brady's $22 million salary-cap hit for 2013, would account for 27 percent of the team's cap space.

Alternatively, the organization and Welker could also come to terms on a new contract. Reiss notes that at one time, conventional wisdom had the offense going through the tight ends, but with injuries to both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, the two have played together in just three of 15 games this season.

If, for some reason, New England decides to let Welker walk in the offseason, there will be no shortage of suitors lining up to sign him, even at the ripe old age of 31.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the Pick-6 Podcast on iTunes. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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