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Welker might skip Patriots’ mini-camp

By Shalise Manza-Young
Globe Staff / April 25, 2012
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Wes Welker finally expressed displeasure with the lack of progress toward a long-term contract agreement with the Patriots Tuesday as the receiver appeared on several ESPN television and radio broadcasts.

“Obviously we’re looking for a long-term deal and the body of work that I’ve showed over the last five years warrants that,’’ Welker said on SportsCenter Tuesday morning. “And hopefully we can get to that point and get something done and cooler heads prevail and we’re able to make something happen.’’

Later, on ESPN Boston radio, he went a step further and said a long-term deal “is what I’m looking for and what I want.’’

The statements were a marked departure for Welker, who recently said the $9.515 million franchise tag amount for receivers was a lot of money, and represented over half of the $17 million he received during the five-year contract he signed with New England in 2007.

But he did allude to his desire for a long-term deal March 5, the day the Patriots placed the tag on him, when he tweeted, “Glad that I will be a Patriot in 2012. and hopefully ’13,’14,’15,’16,’17,’18 . . . ’’

Welker said there have been no talks with the Patriots in more than a month.

“I think the negotiations have stopped at the franchise tender,’’ he said. “We haven’t really spoken since then about anything else. I’m sure with the draft and everything else, there’s a lot of other things that take place and you know how Coach [Bill] Belichick works. Right now he’s in ‘draft mode,’ and I’m sure after the draft, hopefully, we’ll come together and figure something out.’’

Welker, who has 554 receptions in his five seasons with New England - just three shy of the franchise record of 557 set by Troy Brown over 15 years - has not been participating in the team’s voluntary offseason workout program, and it’s unlikely he’ll sign in time to participate in the full-team minicamp in mid-June.

“I’m not 100 percent sure on that,’’ Welker said. “I don’t know if I will or not. I’m thinking I’m probably not going to, but things could change. We’ll see how it all plays out.’’

Although minicamp is mandatory, it is only mandatory for players under contract, so if Welker does not sign his tender or he does not have a multiyear deal before then, he is under no obligation to participate.

Since the Patriots officially have designated him as their franchise player for 2012, Welker has little recourse to protest outside of what he’s doing - staying away from the club.

“I just feel that this was the best, really the only, leverage I had, is to take this route,’’ Welker said. “It’s not a route I thought I’d ever take, just because that’s not me. It’s just the spot I’ve been put in.’’

By league rule, there really is only one date for the sides to factor in: July 16. If a franchised player and his club have not agreed to a long-term contract by that date, the player’s only option is to play the season under the franchise tag.

Although New England has used the franchise tag five times in the last six years, the last three occasions were different situations: Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork both agreed to multiyear deals, and Matt Cassel was tagged and traded to Kansas City.

In 2007, however, the Patriots tagged Asante Samuel after it became clear they would not meet his contract demands and Samuel stayed away from the team until late in the preseason. When he reported, the sides came to an agreement: if Samuel played in 60 percent of the defensive snaps or New England won 12 games, he wouldn’t be franchised again and would hit free agency. Both stipulations were met.

Owner Robert Kraft has said several times he wants Welker to stay in New England for years to come; in recent times when he’s said that, with Mankins, Wilfork, and Tom Brady, a deal was done.

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

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