EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Sports

August 16, 2011

Sign Welker now, or Pats will pay dearly

FOXBORO - He fits with this franchise like few have since Bill Belichick took over better than a decade ago.

So why do we not hear about the stark reality that Wes Welker could walk away after this season, basically at the height of his career?

Welker, the most reliable and proficient receiver in the game the past four seasons, averaging 108 catches a year as a Patriot, heads into the fifth and final year of his $18 million deal, something that rarely happens in this game.

He sat quietly and has watched franchise fixtures like Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins worked out life-changing mega-deals.

Meanwhile, the only noise Welker has ever made in this town was a short soliloquy last year laced with foot puns, directed toward the strange video work of Jets coach Rex Ryan.

And for that, Welker was benched and most likely fined.

So what about a new deal? Welker is 30, with one knee reconstruction on his resume already. Are the Pats prepared to keep him in a New England uniform for years to come?

Or is he playing for his NFL life?

"I'm not worried about that," Welker said. "I'm worried about going out there and playing ball. I love playing on this team. I enjoy every day that I'm out there. And I'm going to let my play take care of everything else."

To Pats fans and opponents, Welker's words had best be believed. Through training camp, he's easily looked like Brady's top target - along with second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez. He's reliable, catches everything in his area code and, yes, the bounce is back in those 30-year-old legs.

"For me I feel like I'm still in my prime. I'm concentrating on the here and now, whatever I can do to help the team win," he said. "It's the best I've felt in my career. My knowledge of the game, being able to be healthy, has really helped me improve.

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