In general, the decision to keep tight end Aaron Hernandez in New England was a smart one. The former fourth-round pick has emerged as one of Tom Brady's favorite targets, and he's coming off a 79-catch performance in 2011. Now he'll be in Foxboro through 2018 and stands to make upwards of $40 million over the life of the deal, including a $12.5 million signing bonus.
The news is somewhat awkward for wide receiver Wes Welker, who led the planet with 122 receptions in 2011 and was also looking for a new deal this offseason. Instead, the Patriots slapped him with the franchise tag, neither side came to terms on a new contract in the ensuing months and Welker eventually signed his one-year tender that will pay him just over $9 million in 2012.
On Monday, he was asked about Hernandez's good fortune.
"It's good for him. I'm definitely happy for him," Welker said via ESPNBoston.com. "He's a great player and done a lot of great things for us. Good to have him here."
That led to the inevitable follow-up question about what this all means for Welker's future in New England.
"I think you have to ask Coach Belichick that," he said. "I'm just going out here and doing my job to the best of my ability, and let everything else take care of itself."
Adding intrigue to all this: Welker missed Friday's preseason game for personal reasons. When asked about it, he would only say "A lot of those personal issues, so I'll leave it at that, and let Coach Belichick take care of everything else."
When the question was put to Belichick he was predictably vague, describing Welker as "day-to-day." A reporter asked if it was in anyway injury related and Belichick repeated "it's day-to-day" before moving on.
Welker, like just about every player not named Drew Brees or Tom Brady, has very little leverage in this situation. We don't say that lightly; he has a staggering 331 receptions the last three seasons and he's been one of Brady's all-time most reliable receivers. And it's that fact that may keep him in New England beyond 2012. Because while the Pats appears to be shifting to a tight end-focused passing game, history has shown that Brady without competent pass-catchers is a disaster waiting to happen. In 2006, his top options were Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell, and last year it was Welker and, well, that was it. Deion Branch was reliable but struggled to get open, and Chad Ochocinco was neither.
As it stands, Welker isn't thinking beyond Week 1 when he plans to be on the field against the Titans.
"I look forward to being out there with the team, and looking forward to 2012," he said.