Reason for optimism with Patriots-Welker deal?

The deadline for the Patriots and franchise player Wes Welker to get a longer-term deal done is next Monday at 4 p.m., and after a time when it looked like a longshot something might get done, now things are starting to look up.

While the two sides have been in different places as far as guaranteed money, it is believed that the main hurdle is a third year and how to structure it. The Patriots have been reluctant to go to a three-year deal with the 31-year old receiver, who in five seasons with New England has recorded 554 catches, just three shy of the franchise record set by Troy Brown over 15 years.

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Via a league source, it is expected that the two sides will be working hard this week toward getting a deal done.

New England did offer Welker a two-year, fully guaranteed deal for $16 million late last season, but it was refused. If he were to play under the franchise tag in both ’12 and ’13, Welker would make nearly $21 million guaranteed.

The newlywed (he got married in late June) signed his franchise tag in May, making it possible for him to take part in OTAs and mini-camp with his teammates.

Since arriving in New England via trade with the Dolphins in 2007, Welker has become something of a security blanket for Tom Brady, the one consistent receiver he’s had over the last five years. Welker fought his way back after suffering a torn ACL in the 2009 regular-season finale and was on the field when the Pats opened the 2010 season.

By league rule, if the two sides don’t come to an agreement by July 15th (this year it’s the 16th because the 15th is a Sunday), then Welker will play the 2012 season under only the franchise tag, and the two can’t talk contract again until the season is over.

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