The New England Patriots watched tight end Rob Gronkowski set yet another record yesterday, although they helped him accomplish his latest feat. The Pats signed Gronkowski to a six year contract worth $54 million, making him the highest paid tight end in NFL history.
But with that deal getting done, does that signal the end of the line for their top wide receiver, Wes Welker?
Welker has voiced his displeasure over his contract status with New England, which is a major no-no with the Patriots brass. Generally, once you speak out about things that are expected to remain behind closed doors, you are given an expiration date with the team. While Welker signed his one year franchise tag deal and has reported to camp, this may very well be his last season as a Patriot.
That is, if he does in fact make it through the entire season. That will depend on how much talking he does to the media throughout training camp and into the regular season.
But it is not just the Gronkowski signing and Welker’s talking that could signal the end is near for the leading pass catcher over the past few years in terms of receptions. As good as Gronkowski is, the Patriots have another franchise tight end who may also soon be cashing in on a massive contract.
Aaron Hernandez, while not as productive as Gronkowski in terms of receptions or touchdowns (or in the media, for that matter), is a major part of New England’s offense. While Welker is an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season, Hernandez has one more year on his rookie deal after that, taking him up until 2014 until that deal expires. He will be a top priority for the Patriots to re-sign, depending on how the next couple of seasons go for him and the team.
When push comes to shove, age will undoubtedly play a major part. Welker is 31-years-old. Hernandez is still just 22. You tell me who has the likelier chance of receiving a long term contract with the Patriots.