PHOENIX - Last Wednesday, the perception was that Wes Welker was in Denver with an offer from the Broncos and waiting to find out if the Patriots would match it to keep him in New England.
Welker signed a deal that was reported that day as being $12 million over two years, so the perception was the Patriots let Welker go over $2 million.
But the dynamic, as it turns out, wasn't as dramatic as it was represented. The Patriots weren't stonewalling a $2 million raise; they were throwing up their hands at what they considered the unrealistic contract demands of Welker's agents.
A) The Patriots told Welker on Tuesday that he needed to make a decision on their offer of two years and $10 million plus incentives or the team would move on. The Welker camp, clinging to a hope of getting at least $16 million guaranteed, wasn't interested.
B) The Patriots moved immediately to sign Danny Amendola when free agency began, agreeing to a five-year, $31 million deal Tuesday evening. Because the deal wouldn't be officially done pending a physical Amendola was taking Thursday morning, the Patriots didn't share the news with their preferred channel of news-breakers. And Amendola's agent, Erik Burkhardt, didn't want the news out there in case the Patriots got cold feet and returned to Welker before the physical was performed on Amendola. If that occurred, Burkhardt would look like he jumped the gun and the other teams interested in Amendola would be able to shave their higher offers down to the level of the Patriots' offer.
C) Because neither Welker nor his agents knew of the Amendola deal conclusively, they were of a mind the Patriots would still come up with their offer to fend off the Broncos' advances on Wednesday.
There was pain on both sides when Welker realized his ship in New England had sailed and the Patriots had filled his spot.
"It was a substantial gap, way beyond," is how Robert Kraft characterized the demands of Welker's agents. "If he had come to us and said ‘The gap was the $2 million’ – which on the surface everyone believes that’s what it is – that would have been closed in a second. I really think, and I’m not saying . . . he has a great agent but I think they way overvalued; as they should.
"Their incentive . . . they don’t really care about the New England Patriots. They care about getting the best financial deal for their client they can get. I understand that. [The agents'] compensation is based on that and they want to attract other clients.
"In the end, our job is to look out to put the New England Patriots in the best position to win continuously. And I think in the last 19 years, I’m pretty proud that we have the best won-loss record of any team in the NFL. In 19 years, we’ve gone to six Super Bowls. I think our modus operandi has been OK. On the other hand, I think this is a situation that we really wanted to happen with Wes and it’s very unfortunate.
"Unfortunately, we couldn’t just give Wes whatever he wanted," said Kraft. "We had to try to give him what the market was willing to pay him. I really believe we were slightly above the market. At the same time, we know we have to improve our defense if we want to compete to make it to the playoffs. That’s what we’ve done. Unfortunately, Wes was a casualty – both sides weren’t able to get it done. It takes two sides to get a deal done.”
Kraft was asked if he spoke to Tom Brady about the team moving on from Welker.
“I don’t answer to Tom Brady," said Kraft. "He’s an important member of the team and we’ve chatted. He did what he did" -- agreeing to a restructuring of his contract to give the Pats more room under the salary cap -- "to put us in the best position to build a team around him and win games. We’ve chatted about it. But he has never . . . it has been reported that he, or people close to him, have made certain comments. None of that is true. I’ve spoken with him directly. Whomever is creating that impression is mistaken.
"We’re all upset that [Welker's] not with us," Kraft added. "But we’re building a team. [Brady] never put a demand or expected anything when he did what he did. He never put quid pro quos, and to be honest, we wouldn’t have accepted them had he done that. He did what he thought (was right) . . . and what he did was tremendous. It’s given our team a real competitive advantage to be in a position to win. And now it’s how well our personnel people make the decisions.”
Perhaps the most accurate summation of the Welker situation was delivered by Kraft when asked why he felt compelled to speak on this.
"The agents are doing their job and trying to do the best job they can. But I just think it was a miscalculation of value here, and playing poker, and unfortunately the player and the team both got hurt.”