As was expected, the New England Patriots placed the franchise tag on wide receiver Wes Welker on Monday prior to the 4 pm deadline. Welker and the Patriots have had off and on contract discussions all offseason and talks were slow prior to the NFL combine.
The tag means that Welker will be paid an estimated $9.4 million in 2012. The Patriots placed the more common “non-exclusive” tag on Welker which means that Welker can negotiate with other teams but that the Patriots have the option to match any offer that Welker receives. If Welker were to sign for another team, the Patriots would receive two first-round picks as compensation. The amount that the Patriots will pay Welker by tagging him is slightly more than the $8 million a year for two years that the Boston Globe reported the Patriots had offered him during the 2011 season.
While Monday was the deadline to place the franchise tag on players, the two sides can still come to an agreement on a long-term contract but must do so by July 15. That is the deadline for designated franchise players to sign multiyear deals. This is the third straight year that the Patriots have placed the franchise tag on a player. In 2010 Vince Wilfork was tagged and in 2011 Logan Mankins was tagged but both tags were lifted when the two lineman agreed to contract extensions.
Welker is currently New England’s top receiver. In 2011, he caught 122 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. With a short list of experienced receivers, Welker was expected to return either by contract extension or the franchise tag. The Patriots are also expected to be looking to sign a free agent receiver that is a more prototypical number one.