Time for Patriots to ditch low-ball approach and give Wes Welker his deserved big payday

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

Quarterback Tom Brady unquestionably took less money long-term in a contract extension this week with hopes that the New England Patriots would re-sign numerous key players. The question is whether that becomes a reality.

On Monday, a source close to Brady said the quarterback was under the belief the Patriots were in talks to keep veteran wide receiver Wes Welker. In addition, Brady was led to believe New England might also bring in another wide receiver who is more of a classic deep threat along the lines of what Randy Moss was for the Patriots over three-plus seasons.

On Tuesday, when a source close to Welker was contacted about the supposed talks and how Brady believed he had lent a helping hand, the source responded via text message, "How sweet."

In other words, don't count on that fairy tale coming true, particularly when it comes to Welker. Though the Boston Herald reported Tuesday that the two sides were in negotiations, the Patriots have clearly been hesitant to reward Welker with a lucrative multiyear deal and it's time for the cheap approach to end.

Over the past year, the Patriots have had contradictory thoughts about Welker and his value. In one sense, coach Bill Belichick has long admired Welker's toughness and unique ability to get open in the tight areas underneath the defense. For years, Welker was the de facto running game for New England, serving much the same purpose that Art Monk did with Washington in the 1980s, especially once John Riggins slowed down and had retired.

However, in true Belichick management style, just about every player can be replaced at some point. Even though Welker has caught at least 111 passes in five of his six seasons with New England and posted 1,354 yards last season (his second-best total with the Patriots), there is a plan in place to move on from him.

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Welker will be 32 next season and has already beaten the NFL odds by making it this far as an undrafted free agent. If not for an injury to Aaron Hernandez that limited the tight end to 51 catches for 483 yards, the thinking is that Welker's numbers might have been far less.

Additionally, an injury to tight end Rob Gronkowski and the mediocre play of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd contributed to the Patriots going back to Welker when they appeared ready to utilize him less.

But maybe that's the point. As much as the Patriots would like to believe that they can move on from Welker, the best course for them is to find a way to keep him, even if that's at premium dollars.

If it takes giving Welker a franchise tag of more than $11 million for this season, which the team has reportedly decided against, or a three-year deal worth $33 million with $21 million guaranteed (or some version of that), New England needs to do that.

That's because the window on Brady and the Patriots is closing. As much as the quarterback and the team believe he's going to play until 40, that's probably a fairy tale, too. Sorry, the NFL is no league for old men.

In other words, Brady's willingness to take less money shouldn't be used simply as a standard for everyone to do in kind. Brady is a special person who will likely make money for the rest of his life simply by being Tom Brady. Between his good looks, his three Super Bowl rings and his exceptional polish in public, Brady is going to make millions of dollars a year as a broadcaster, a pitch man, a public speaker or whatever else he chooses.

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The same can't be said for guys like Welker. This time in his career is when he cashes out. The Patriots need to recognize what he's done for the club, his potential to still produce at a high level and reward him.

Particularly before time runs out.

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