Even if Welker plays out this year, the elephant in the room will be palpable as both sides need to figure out their future.
Bill Belichick is one of the smartest coaches in the NFL, if not the smartest when everything balances out. He rarely loses out in personnel decisions such as trades or contract signings which is why the team's hesitation to pay Welker is very significant.
Despite tearing his ACL before the 2010 season, Welker has nearly 6,000 yards during his five years with the Patriots. Welker's success in some people's eyes is bloated by the system he is in. People point out that prior to playing for the Patriots, Welker did very little in his first four seasons.
Welker does need to be in the right situation to be a star. He is not the type of receiver who will lead a receiving corps and dominate games regardless of his teammates or the scheme he plays in. Unlike a Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson, Welker would severely struggle with the Lions or Cardinals.
That does not reduce Welker's value however. Welker is more valuable to the Patriots than any other receiver. Yes Welker needs the Patriots, but the Patriots need Welker as well.
That said, Welker is still not worth elite money.
Despite racking up over 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns last season, Welker is not the primary receiving threat in Tom Brady's arsenal. In fact, he might be third/fourth this season. By that I mean Welker is not the first player opposing defenses worry about when they play the Patriots.
Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and maybe even Brandon Lloyd this year will be more important to prevent the Patriots offense from taking over football games. Gronkowski was easily Tom Brady's most dangerous weapon last year and without him the whole offense struggled. Without Welker, Brady would still be able to get the ball in the endzone while it would be a lot easier to find a replacement in his role.
Possession receivers aren't as common as running backs in the NFL, but it is a lot easier to find an effective one than it is to find a receiver good enough to alter a whole defensive gameplan. The AJ Greens, Calvin Johnsons and Larry Fitzgeralds of this world demand coverage to swing their way. The Wes Welkers, Danny Amendolas and Victor Cruzs do not.
Welkers worst year with the Patriots came after his torn ACL in 2010. However, what actually hampered Welker's production more that year appeared to be the lack of a true number one receiver to draw coverage from him.
In the right situation, Wes Welker is a major offensive force. However, the drop-off between he and the average possession receiver is not as steep as the drop-off between an elite outside receiver and an average one.
If Welker was five or six years younger, the Patriots would likely give him a lengthy deal. However at 31, his age is just another thing making the Patriots hesitate.
Belichick tends to make the right decisions with veteran players. After Randy Moss was traded to the Minnesota Vikings he did nothing. Trading Richard Seymour cost the Patriots a fine defensive lineman, but he has proved to be past his prime. The Seymour trade also gave the team their new starting left tackle Nate Solder. Deion Branch got a big deal in Seattle when the Patriots refused to pay him a few years ago. Branch didn't ever live up to that deal and was ultimately brought back to Boston for a fraction of the original price.
We have no way of knowing what kind of numbers the wide receiver is looking for and what kind of numbers are being offered from the franchise. However if Welker is looking to be paid like an elite receiver, that won't happen.
Regardless of his past production.