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Patriots franchise Welker

Team calls wide receiver a ‘contractual priority’

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By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / March 6, 2012
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The Patriots designated Wes Welker as their franchise player for the 2012 season on Monday, a move that was fully expected since the sides remained far apart in contract discussions on a longer-term contract.

It is the fourth straight year the team has used its franchise designation, and the eighth time overall.

Welker’s tag is non-exclusive, which means he can negotiate with other teams, though if he signed elsewhere, the Patriots would be owed two first-round picks. The Patriots also have the option of matching another team’s offer.

The tag for receivers this season is expected to be approximately $9.4 million - the exact figure is not yet known because it is tied to the salary cap and the NFL has not come to a final number on the cap. The formula for determining the franchise number for each position for non-exclusive franchise players has changed under the new collective bargaining agreement; it used to be the average of the top five highest-paid players from the previous season or 120 percent of the player’s salary from the previous season, whichever was higher.

Now, the non-exclusive tag is determined by the “cap percentage average.’’ Simply put, it’s more complicated than the old formula.

The deal is guaranteed once Welker signs it.

In announcing the move, the Patriots also included the following statement, which was not attributed: “Wes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal.

“Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come.’’

Welker posted the following on Twitter Monday night: “Glad that I will be a Patriot in 2012. and hopefully ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’17, ’18 .......’’

Welker’s public - and positive - reaction might mean he will not hold out if he does not get a multiyear deal before training camp in July.

There is time to reach a long-term deal. The deadline for a franchised player to sign a multiyear deal is July 15.

Welker, who turns 31 in May, has been the most productive receiver in the NFL over the last five years, with 554 receptions. The Patriots acquired him as a restricted free agent from Miami in 2007 for second- and seventh-round draft picks that year, then signed him to a five-year, $18.1 million contract.

During last season, the team offered Welker a two-year, fully guaranteed deal for $16 million, which was rejected. If Welker remains franchised this season and is franchised in 2013 (for which he’d get 120 percent of his 2012 salary), he’d earn well over $20 million, all guaranteed.

New England used its franchise tag on Vince Wilfork in 2010 and Logan Mankins last year but reached long-term contract agreements with both. Wilfork’s came less than two weeks after he was tagged; because of the lockout, Mankins’s did not come until training camp.

Robert Kraft has said he wants Welker to remain with the Patriots, as has Welker himself. Given their on- and off-field relationship, Tom Brady almost certainly would want Welker back.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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