PHOENIX — Patriots owner Robert Kraft met with Boston-area media members Monday for the first time since Tom Brady’s contract renegotiation and extension and Wes Welker’s decision to sign with Denver.
What happened during the course of that 19-minute question-and-answer session at the NFL meetings, in a shaded courtyard at the Arizona Biltmore, was an explanation of what happened during the Welker negotiations through the Patriots’ eyes.
Right off the bat, Kraft was asked about Welker.
“We usually don’t talk about contracts, but I’d like to clear up what I think is some misconceptions about the Wes situation,” Kraft began. “I’ll go into limited financial details. You know, everyone in our organization wanted Wes Welker back. Anyone who doubts that, or thinks we weren’t serious just doesn’t get it.
“I’ve owned the team 19 years and I’ve known in the end we have to have certain limits and restraints. Like I’ve said many times, I really wanted Wes to be with us through the rest of his career, but it takes two sides to do a deal. The only person in my life who had unlimited financial ability to do whatever they wanted was my late, sweet wife [Myra]. Everything else has boundaries.”
Even with those boundaries, Kraft believed the Patriots’ offer to Welker was very fair.
“In Wes’s case, we were willing to go what we considered above his market value. For a couple years, we tried to get a long-term deal done with him,” Kraft said. “We couldn’t do a deal and we wound up franchising him at a very high number [$9.5 million for 2012].
“In retrospect, I wish we could have wrapped that into an arrangement where it was part of a longer-term deal. But I really believe in this case, his agents misrepresented, in their mind, what his market value was. When you come right down to the bottom line, he accepted a deal in Denver that is less money than what we offered him.
“In fact, he has a one-year deal in Denver for $6 million. Our last offer, before we would have even gone up and before we thought we were going into free agency, was a $10 million offer with incentives that would have earned him another $6 million if he performed the way he had the previous two years. But in Denver, he’s going to count $4 million against the cap this coming year and $8 million the second year. There is no guarantee that he plays the second year there. He will get $6 million the first year. Our deal, he would have gotten $8 million the first year, our last offer to him.
“So in fact, our offer was better than what in fact he got from Denver.”
It’s not possible to see what the Patriots’ offer to Welker was — an offer that wasn’t submitted until Monday night, a day before free agency opened — but looking at the contract backs up Kraft’s claim.
Welker’s two-year contract included a $4 million signing bonus, and his $2 million salary for 2013 is fully guaranteed — so at a minimum he’ll get $6 million from Denver.
(Signing bonuses can be spread over the life of a contract, which is why Welker’s cap number is only $4 million for ’13 — the salary plus half of the signing bonus.)
But it is possible the receiver will only be with the Broncos for one year: at the moment, Welker’s $3 million salary for 2014 is only guaranteed for injury — if he’s hurt while playing, the team has to pay it — but it only becomes fully guaranteed if he is on the roster for the first day of the 2014 league year; he also has a $3 million roster bonus that is only guaranteed for injury.
What that means: if it is nearing the end of the 2013 league year and the Broncos don’t want to have a receiver about to turn 33 with an $8 million cap number, they can simply release him. Welker would only count $2 million against the cap in that case, the second half of his signing bonus.
Later, Kraft again pointed to that $8 million cap number and insinuated Welker could be released after one year.
Kraft said he’s sad that Welker had to leave, and insisted that everyone in the Patriots’ organization wanted the franchise’s leader in receptions to remain in New England.
“Wes Welker, just to be very clear, was our first choice to be with the team. When free agency came, his agents [Welker is represented by Athletes First, one of the most powerful agencies in the NFL] kept insisting on a very high number that was beyond our number, we had to go work alternatives.
“Our second alternative was Danny Amendola. [Welker] had offers from other teams. So we made a judgment that Wes, unfortunately, probably wouldn’t we be with us. We made this commitment to Amendola.”
Kraft continued that Welker called both him and coach Bill Belichick Wednesday to inform them of his offer from the Broncos, but with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and, by then Amendola — all players who play in the middle of the field — already under contract, “it was just unfortunately a little bit too late.
“If he had called one day earlier, he would have been with us. And so that is the Wes Welker story. I’m very sad about it and I wish he would have been with our team.”
Welker’s side submitted a contract proposal before the legal tampering window opened, and never got a counter-proposal back from New England. The Patriots made an offer Monday night, a counter was sent by the Welker camp along the lines of what the Titans had offered for the receiver (reportedly $14 million for two years), the Patriots said no and didn’t give a counter.
When Denver’s deal came, Welker’s side asked New England to match it and again was turned down – by then, Amendola’s contract already had been completed.
Asked about agent David Dunn’s contention that there was never an offer, Kraft quickly shot back, “Did you hear what I said? There was an offer. And that’s just bogus.”
He also put to bed the idea that Brady asked for assurances that Welker would be re-signed when the quarterback re-did his deal, saying, “I don’t answer to Tom Brady” and continuing that even if Brady had asked for certain things, “to be honest, we wouldn’t have accepted them.”
Kraft clearly blamed Dunn and Athletes First for a deal not getting done, and was sincerely upset that Welker would no longer be with the Patriots.
“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions — how our coach felt, how I felt. I don’t get involved very often. This is one that was really important,” Kraft said. “Wes, I used to speak to him in the locker room and say, ‘You know, you and I have to be smart here to make both sides make it happen.’
“And, you know, the agents are doing their job and doing the best job they can, but I just think there was a miscalculation of value here and playing poker, and unfortunately, the player and the team both got hurt.”
The Patriots owner met the media with three red marks on his face — one on his cheek, another on his nose, and the third near his mouth; he is being treated for pre-melanoma, a type of skin cancer. He opted not to cover them, he explained, because he wanted to encourage proper skin protection.