|After five seasons of historic production, Wes Welker can't get a long-term deal. (Getty Images)|
Wes Welker did everything a player is supposed to do.
Like many in the NFL, he worked hard. While it has always been juvenile and simple minded to portray Welker as this scrappy little white dude playing a position mostly populated by blacks, utilizing only grit, mental acuity and duct tape -- Welker is straight up talented, period -- he has indeed been one of those men who made the most of his abilities.
He rarely complained publicly about his contract status. He just produced Hall of Fame numbers. Last season he had a career-high 1,569 receiving yards. Since 2007 no receiver in football has caught more passes. There has been no slowing down and also no arrests or Gronkifications. Just Super Bowls and big numbers and a fairly classy demeanor.
Oh, and there was something else: trust in the Patriots they would one day take care of him.
Welker seemed so certain this would happen he gave up his only recourse, his only true power, and signed the franchise tender, saying it was the right thing to do. I called Welker a sucker for doing that and it turns out I was right because he has been royally screwed by the Patriots.
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Now, that doesn't mean the average person should feel sorry for Welker, because he's going to earn more than $9 million this season, but from a football standpoint, absolutely ... totally ... screwed.
Welker's signing of the tag this year, instead of potentially holding out, was an olive branch. The Patriots took that branch, applied a saw, and then ate it with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
With the Patriots declining to do a long-term deal, this is likely Welker's last year in New England. It's possible the Patriots could use the tag again next year but they probably won't. In all likelihood, Welker is gone, and I think the Patriots will regret it.
This has always been the NFL. Management has the larger artillery, the more horsepower to squeeze the fight out of players, with the players' only lo-fidelity recourse being to withhold their talents. Before and during the lockout, many players believed the new CBA would change that, giving them slightly more say, the ability to punch back.
Nothing has changed. Despite the increasing money and popularity, players still remain at the mercy of ownership. There is no better example of this than Welker's situation.
The Patriots' response privately is concern over giving Welker a deal due to his age (he turned 31 in May). Fair enough. But Welker has shown no sign of slowing. Would it kill the Patriots, one of the great organizations in all of sports, to show an ounce of loyalty to a person who has been so loyal to them? Just an ounce?
This is what the Chicago Bears did with Matt Forte. It's a risk signing Forte to a long-term deal. One source said Forte received a four-year contract worth $8 million per season. And while there's a degree of truth that the Bears caved somewhat to the public pressure put on them from fans and media that Forte deserved a new deal, the Bears were also, in part, rewarding Forte for his steadiness and dedication and banking both of those things would continue.
It's amazing to see, actually, how screwed up this system can at times be. Dallas' Anthony Spencer was tagged by Dallas because of a down market on pass rushers but he will basically make the same amount of cash next year as Welker. It's crazy.
What Welker gave up in not holding out to fight for a long-term deal and instead handing over his only leverage willingly was future security. Welker has probably three or four years left at the level he's playing now, which is pretty damn good. But playing on a one-year contract is highly risky for him. He injures his knee and that future earning potential is drastically damaged.
There had to be a way for this to work -- for Welker to get some long-term comfort and the Patriots to get what they wanted; for the Patriots to keep a valued player, maybe until he retires, and Welker to get security.
You would have hoped that some way, somehow, loyalty would have mattered.
Fantasy, I know. But a man can dream.