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NFL New England Patriots

Free Agent Contracts Hurting New England Patriots

It’s less than a week into free agency and already teams are dealing out massive contracts, at least to wide receivers. Those contracts have put the New England Patriots in an even tougher position with their top receiver Wes Welker.

Welker became a free agent after the 2011 season and was the top priority for the Patriots to re-sign. When the two couldn’t come to an agreement, the Patriots placed the franchise tag on Welker which means he will make $9.4 million in 2012. This seemed like the right move for the Patriots while discussions continued. However, this week Welker got much more expensive.

There wasn’t a lot of movement as 2012 NFL free agency opened but there was movement with wide receivers. Whether it was re-signing or moving to a new team, several wide receivers signed new contracts. The two largest contracts were handed to Vincent Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Jackson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for $55.6 million over five years. Garcon signed with the Washington Redskins for $42.5 million over five years.

With the Patriots still looking to sign Welker to a longer deal, those contracts come at the worst time. Of the three receivers, Welker had the most productive season in 2011. In San Diego, Jackson caught 60 receptions for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. In Indianapolis, Garcon caught 70 receptions for 947 yards and six touchdowns. Welker last season caught 122 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns for the Patriots. To make matters worse, the Detroit Lions paid their star receiver Calvin Johnson $130 million over the next eight years in what is the largest deal in NFL history. While Welker doesn’t have the youth or clout of Johnson, his numbers weren’t much less and an additional large contract might convince Welker to expect one as well.

Before the Jackson and Garcon deals were signed, it was unlikely that Welker would have been offered that much but with the money receivers have been given so far this offseason, it could cause problems for the Patriots in re-signing their top receiver. It’s likely to also cause a problem as the Patriots go after another top priority in another receiver. The more these large contracts get signed, the more money it will take for New England to bring in their top offensive needs.