Is Welker The Odd Man Out?

Wes Welker hasn't signed his Franchise Tag offer yet, despite telling the team he was interested in a long term deal. The Patriots in the meantime have goine about building a roster without waiting for him to sign on the dotted line.

Welker's future in doubt

   If a rising tide truly lifts all boats, then the cost for the Patriots to reach a long-term deal with franchised receiver Wes Welker went up quite a bit in the first few days of free agency.

   While the Pro Bowl receiver was last heard from expressing on Twitter his happiness at the idea of staying in New England for 2012 under the team's $9.515 million franchise tender, seemingly every other free-agent wide receiver spent the first few days of free agency inking huge money long-term contracts.

   Vincent Jackson went to Tampa Bay on a five-year deal for over $55 million. Pierre Garcon got five years and $42 million from the Redskins. Marques Colston stayed in New Orleans for another five years and $40 million. DeSean Jackson, who'd been franchised by the Eagles, reached a five-year, $50 million deal to stay in Philadelphia. Calvin Johnson signed an eight-year deal worth more than $130 million to stay the centerpiece of the Detroit offense.

   All these deals for the top wide receivers on the free-agent market were met with speculation in New England that every contract increased the amount it was going to take to get Tom Brady's favorite target signed beyond the franchise tag. The idea was that Welker, who reportedly turned down the Patriots two-year, fully guaranteed $16 million offer during the season, was worth as much or more than these other receivers given the fact that he caught more passes over the last five seasons (554) than any player in the NFL.

   But there is a major difference between Welker and the guys getting the big coin in free agency - his birth certificate. Welker will be 31 years old on May 1, putting him on the wrong side of the key NFL age of 30.

   Jackson was the oldest of the receivers to get big deals early in free agency, and he's two years younger than Welker. Not to mention the added detail that Jackson is a traditional more highly valued No. 1, big-play outside receiver rather than a slot machine like Welker.

   In fact, looking at the contracts signed of late, maybe the more comparable number would be the three-year, $17.5 million deal that 33-year-old Reggie Wayne got to return to Indianapolis.

   The bottom line with Welker is that while he's been arguably the best, most consistent pass catcher in the game in his five seasons in New England, it wouldn't be good NFL business to overpay him now for what he's done in the past. So while he may look on from afar drooling at the contracts that guys with less production are getting to open free agency, there is little that No. 83 can do about it.

   Welker was underpaid on his last contract. But that is water under the bridge.

   Even with all the big money being thrown around to younger receivers in free agency, Welker's situation remains somewhat unchanged. He's limited by the franchise tag. He's limited by his age. He's limited in that the Patriots rarely set the bar at a position for any player, certainly not a player who's past the prime of his career.

   So Welker's true market value is probably somewhere between the deal that Jackson got and the one that Wayne received. That's probably a four-year deal worth somewhere between $32 and $36 million with about half of it guaranteed.

   If Welker is willing to sign such a deal, the Patriots probably would oblige him. If he has dreams of getting the $40 or $50 million that all the other, younger receivers seem to be getting then he's probably going to be disappointed.

   That's the simple reality of the business of the NFL, where a rising tide of big money contracts may not in fact lift all boats.

Patriots add receivers in busy Saturday

   --The Patriots added two receivers in a busy fifth day of free agency, agreeing to deals with Brandon Lloyd and Anthony Gonzalez.

   Lloyd signed a three-year, $12 million deal after making no secret of his desire to join the Patriots. Lloyd also had interest from the Dolphins and 49ers but didn't make much of an effort to return to the Rams, where he spent the second half of last season following a trade deadline swap that sent him to St. Louis from the Broncos.

   Lloyd had 147 catches for 2,414 yards in the last two seasons, including his Pro Bowl breakout season with the Broncos in 2010. That offense was directed by then-head coach Josh McDaniels, who now works for the Patriots.

   Gonzalez, a first-round pick of the Colts in 2007, has largely been limited by injuries and fell behind the likes of Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon with Indianapolis. He's a precision route-runner with good straight-line speed but is unproven after playing just 11 games the last three seasons. If healthy, the 6-0 Gonzalez could be a fit in the slot.

   Lloyd isn't a blazer, but he runs very good routes and has incredible hands, body control and the quickness to shake blanket coverage. He's also 6-0, but isn't short on confidence, one reason he's been with six teams since he was a fourth-round pick out of Illinois in 2003.

   The additions likely mean bad news for Chad Ochocinco's bid to return to the Patriots.

Fanene A Big Addition
   --DL Jonathan Fanene is the biggest name and body of New England's free-agent activity so far. The former Bengals backup reached a three-year deal worth $12 million that included a $3.85 million signing bonus despite not making a visit to the team. Fanene actually reached the deal while spending time with his family in his native American Samoa.

   Fanene has played in 71 games with 17 starts since the Bengals drafted him in the seventh round out of Utah in 2005. The 6-4, 292-pounder had a career-high 6.5 sacks in 16 games (two starts) last season. He also had six sacks in 2009.

   Fanene adds depth and versatility to a New England defensive line that had gotten a bit thin on the depth chart behind Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork. He could fill a role as a guy who could play both end and tackle in three- and four-man fronts, as well as serve as a situational interior pass rusher. It's the type of role that Mike Wright had filled with the team until concussion issues sidelined him in recent years and forced his release earlier this offseason.

Koutouvides Re-Signed Under The Radar

   --Linebacker Niko Koutouvides re-signed with the Patriots prior to the start of free agency. The eight-year veteran played in eight games with one start in New England after signing with the team last Nov. 9. He notched eight tackles on defense, with another nine and a fumble recovery in special teams action. Koutouvides deal is for one year at the veteran minimum of $825,000.

Hoyer Availabe, For a Price

   --Quarterback Brian Hoyer was tendered at a second-round level as a restricted free agent, a tender offer worth $1.927 million for Tom Brady's three-year backup. The former undrafted free agent saw action in three games last season, completing his only pass attempt for 22 yards.

   Hoyer has now played in 13 games over his three seasons. He's attempted 43 passes with 27 completions for 286 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

   Some reports have indicated that he might draw interest and potentially a restricted free agent offer sheet from a team looking for a starting quarterback to develop.

Landry Visit
   --Safety LaRon Landry has reportedly scheduled a visit to New England. The free-agent safety spent the previous five seasons with the Redskins after the team selected him with the sixth overall pick in 2007 out of LSU. Landry missed eight games last season with an Achilles injury and seven the year before.

   Reports have indicated that New England's AFC East rival, the New York Jets, are also interested in Landry. The Bears, Lions and Eagles are also reportedly looking into signing the beefy big hitter whose Hulk-like flexing biceps photos have been a hot topic of late on the internet.

 Patriots Add Safety

  --Safety Steve Gregory, a free agent from the Chargers, visited Gillette Stadium March 14 and signed a three-year deal the next day. Gregory has played in 85 games with 31 starts. He evolved from a special teamer to a versatile defensive back with the ability to cover in the slot.

 Green-Ellis Moving On?
  --Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was scheduled to make a free-agent visit to Cincinnati. The 2010 1,000-yard rusher led the Patriots with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2011, but was an overall disappointment on the ground with a team-best 667 yards on just a 3.7-yard average. Green-Ellis' claim to fame is that he has never fumbled in his four NFL seasons since joining New England as an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi.

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's a beast." - Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty on Twitter in reference to new defensive line teammate Jonathan Fanene.

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