Wes Welker risks legacy if he leaves Patriots

As Wes Welker continues difficult negotiations with the New England Patriots, according to a source and published reports, the wide receiver has an important equation to consider:

Does he go for a contract that's worth every possible dollar with a team that is likely not the Patriots? Or does he go for a contract with New England that likely earns him most of the money and increases his chances of creating a legacy?

Or as one source with a passing understanding of Welker's situation explained: "You can sign a $40 million contract, but you might only make 70 percent of it. Is that better than signing a $30 million contract that you make 100 percent of?"

In other words, is Welker better off leaving New England for potentially a couple or few million dollars more on one contract (let's say three years, $33 million) vs. staying with the Patriots for slightly less (let's say three years and $30 million)?

What's important to consider is Welker's somewhat mild disdain for the Patriots right now, according to a source close to the player. Welker apparently is a little miffed at how he was treated in last year's opener, when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had him targeted for a season-low five pass attempts that resulted in a season-low three receptions.

That bit of tweaking stuck in Welker's craw all season. So did the notion that if tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski hadn't both gotten hurt at different times, there's a strong belief that Welker would have been limited to far fewer than the 118 receptions he finished with last season. In short, there's a little paranoia in the Welker camp these days about his role with the Pats.

[Related: Eight players hit with NFL's franchise tag]

Of course, as long as Tom Brady is throwing the ball, Welker is going to get his chances in New England. The only things standing in the way is if Welker doesn't re-sign or if he gets hurt.

Again, this is a tough call for Welker, who made $9.4 million last year as the team's franchise player but will hit the open market this time for the first time in his career. Welker will be 32 next season, so this contract is really the last chance for him to cash in.

The temptation to max out every dollar in this contract is obvious. Against that temptation, Welker needs to consider what his legacy is worth. Three more years of catching passes from Brady could get him to well over 1,000 receptions in his career, perhaps even up over 1,100 (Welker had 768 already). A Super Bowl ring would help solidify his status as a hero in Boston, one of those guys who eventually make money just being who he is.

Go to another city on a cash grab and there's a good chance that you're looked at as little more than a carpetbagger. In fact, fans in another town might focus on what Welker is not rather than what he is.

Welker is not a deep threat (he has averaged only 11.2 yards per catch) and he's really not even much of a scoring threat (he has 38 career TDs and never more than nine in a season). His game is built on nuance, such as the quick footwork he uses to get away from defenders coupled with his ability to read defenses with Brady as if they were two people sharing one brain.

Go play with another quarterback and all of that could suffer. Worse, Welker could go to a team that doesn't let him run constant option routes (the ability to go just about anywhere on the field depending upon the coverage). Suddenly, fans and perhaps the management of a new team could view him as just a little guy who doesn't really measure up in the classic ways.

You know, sort of how San Diego and Miami looked at him earlier in his career.

[More: Several NFL teams look to change QBs despite few options]

What that means is that Welker could be a cap casualty in two years, that feisty receiver who went somewhere else and didn't pan out. All that money he was set to make in the third year of the contract could evaporate and he would end up back in New England, asking for another shot, taking minimal salary to do it and hoping to get his place back in line.

That's the reality that Welker has to consider as he weighs the money.

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