Wes Welker’s long-term future is next question

FOXBOROUGH - Wes Welker pulled a bit of a surprise move Tuesday, signing the franchise tender the Patriots placed on him in March.

Now that he has signed the tender, which guarantees the perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver $9.515 million for the 2012 season, Welker can rejoin the team. New England begins on-field organized team activities Monday.

Welker took to Twitter to announce his move, posting: “I signed my tender today. I love the game and I love my teammates! Hopefully doing the right things gets the right results. #leapoffaith’’


By “doing the right thing,’’ Welker likely meant not holding out in the hopes that he’ll get the security of a long-term contract. It is believed the sides have been talking recently in an effort to do just that.

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By returning to the team, Welker, 31, essentially forfeits his only leverage. He can now participate in OTAs and full-team minicamp next month.

New England had plenty of cap space to cover Welker’s franchise number before restructuring Tom Brady’s contract, and Matt Light’s retirement gave it even more room, so the financial concerns aren’t there for the club, which has the option of franchising Welker again next year for 120 percent of his 2012 salary - or about $11.4 million.

Therefore, any discussion of a long-term deal likely would have to start at $21 million, which is about what Welker would make if he were to be franchised this season and next.

Of course, if Welker suffers a serious injury this season, the chances of the team franchising him again go down significantly, so he is taking a risk from that perspective.


As recently as Monday, when he spoke on WEEI, Welker said he wanted to take part in minicamp but hadn’t decided whether he would or not. He made it clear, however, that he would not hold out in the season, saying he had “9.5 million reasons’’ not to miss any games.

It was a softened stance compared with a couple of weeks ago, when Welker said he “probably’’ wasn’t going to take part in minicamp. Earlier this offseason, Welker, who has an NFL-best 554 receptions in his five seasons with the Patriots, said he felt he deserved a long-term contract.

Welker is part of a stacked group of receivers that will start competing for roster spots beginning next week. The team has a dozen under contract, including Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Donté Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Ochocinco, Anthony Gonzalez, Julian Edelman, and draft pick Jeremy Ebert.

Welker is holding his annual football clinic this weekend at Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody.


Patriots draftee Alfonzo Dennard, who faces a third-degree felony charge for assaulting a police officer in Lancaster County, Neb., waived his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday and remains free on $5,000 bond.

Dennard, a cornerback out of Nebraska who was arrested just days before the draft, will be arraigned May 30. If convicted, he could face five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Dennard, the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, was considered by most draft observers to be a third-round talent at worst, but his arrest led to a free fall, and New England took him in the seventh round, 224th overall.

The Patriots officially announced the signing of second-round draft pick Tavon Wilson. The defensive back from Illinois signed a four-year deal. Reports had the pact totaling $4.2 million with a $1.5 million signing bonus . . . The team also released quarterback Mike Hartline. An undrafted rookie out of Kentucky in 2011, Hartline was initially signed by Indianapolis last year. The Patriots signed him in January, and he took part in rookie minicamp last weekend.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.