PHOENIX -- Thanks to the culture established by their tight-lipped head coach, the New England Patriots in the Bill Belichick era have been well known for their refusal to re-live the past, always choosing to focus on the future and moving ahead rather than looking back.
So much for that.
In an uncharacteristically detailed discussion of the club's failed Wes Welker free-agent contract negotiations, Patriots owner Robert Kraft held court for about 20 minutes with reporters at the NFL's annual meeting at the Arizona Biltmore on Monday, claiming Welker is a Denver Bronco today because the player's agent, David Dunn, did not serve his interests well. Though Kraft's session served the purpose of a he-said, she-said exchange with Welker's representatives, the owner's primary point was Welker turned down more money in New England to sign with Denver. Initial reports had the Broncos offering $2 million more than the Patriots over the course of a two-year contract, however.
"In Wes's case, we were willing to go what we considered above his market value,'' Kraft said. "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 which is less money than what we offered him.
"In fact, he has a one-year deal in Denver for $6 million. Our last offer.....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.''
True, but left unsaid by Kraft is that there is also no guarantee Welker would have realized all $6 million of incentives from the Patriots, either. If he under performs with the Broncos, Denver can release him before the 2014 season and not have to pay him the $6 million he's owed next year. The Broncos would have then had him for one season at $6 million (a $4 million signing bonus and a $2 million base salary in 2013). In New England, Welker would have only topped that $6 million this year, and thus left money on the table if he reached his incentives, which is also not a given. So in a sense, Kraft is trying to have it both ways with his logic and his re-creation of the Welker negotiations.
Kraft told Sirius Radio Monday that Welker's agents "played poker, [but] they overplayed their hand.'' He characterized both Welker and the Patriots "losers'' because of it. Dunn could not be reached for comment Monday, but Sunday he told Comcast SportsNet New England that he believes the Patriots didn't want Welker back.
"Everyone in our organization wanted Wes Welker back,'' Kraft said. "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 Patriots, in fact, had essentially moved on from Welker even before Welker and the Broncos struck their deal last Wednesday afternoon. Believing Welker to be likely on his way out of town, the Patriots started negotiating with Rams free-agent slot receiver Danny Amendola on Tuesday, the first day of free agency and quickly agreed to terms on a five-year, $28.5 million contract. The Patriots didn't reveal the deal with Amendola until after news of Welker's signing in Denver had surfaced Wednesday.
"Wes Welker, just to be very clear, was our first choice to be with the team,'' Kraft said. "When free agency came and his agents kept on insisting on a very high number that was beyond our number, we had to go to work on alternatives. Our second alternative was Danny Amendola. He had offers from other teams. So we made a judgment that Wes, unfortunately probably wouldn't be with us. We made this commitment to Amendola.
"Wednesday, I personally got a call from Wes and he told me about this offer from Denver. He called Bill [Belichick] as well. We met and chatted. We have a lot of people, we've committed a lot of money to this inside position -- you have Gronk [tight end Rob Gronkowski], you have [tight end Aaron] Hernandez, you have Danny [Amendola] now -- it was just unfortunately a little bit too late. If he had called one day earlier, he would have been with us.''
Welker-gate, of course, didn't just involve the Patriots' ultra-productive slot receiver, who caught 110 passes or more in five of his six seasons in New England. It was partly a story about Tom Brady as well, given the Patriots quarterback made it well known he wanted Welker back with the team. Brady even restructured his contract this spring rather dramatically to give the franchise more salary cap room and negotiation flexibility.
After Welker joined the Broncos, there were reports that some people close to Brady were furious the Patriots would let the quarterback's favorite target depart -- especially after Brady had worked with the club to lower his own salary cap numbers this year and next year. But Kraft downplayed any negative reaction from Brady and said he was no more upset than anyone else that Welker jumped to Peyton Manning's stable of receivers in Denver.
"I don't answer to Tom Brady,'' Kraft said. "He's an important member of the team and we've chatted. He did what he did 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.
"I mean, we're all upset that he's not with us. But we're building a team. He never put a demand or expected anything when we 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 [he should], and 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.''