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Big Free Agent Decisions Loom Over Patriots’ Offseason

Will Wes Welker be back in New England next season?

For a team led by perfectionists Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, not winning the Super Bowl was a monumental disappointment. The Patriots will have plenty of time to shake those bad memories and get the sour taste of defeat out of their mouths, but like many teams heading into the offseason, they’ll have to make some key decisions concerning the future of the team and they’ll have to make them soon.

Brady would be a lot lonelier without Welker to rely on

With the draft coming up and with several big names, including Wes Welker, hitting the free agent market, the Patriots will have to act fast to secure the players they want for next season. Last year, the team gave Welker the franchise tag, locking him in for the 2012 season, but they’ll have to either sign him to a long term contract to keep him or sign him with the franchise tag again, which of course gets a bit spendy ($11.4 million this season).

Although Tom Brady doesn’t make these kinds of executive decisions, if it were up to him, he would do pretty much anything to keep Welker, who is a five-time Pro Bowler and Brady’s favorite target in the highest powered offense in the NFL.

“Everybody knows how I feel about Wes, our whole team feels that way about Wes,” Brady told the “Dennis & Callahan Show” on Boston sports radio WEEI, via ESPN.com. “He’s just one of the best players I’ve played with and played against. He’s just a phenomenal player, and he’s been the heart and soul of what our team is all about. He’s been so selfless, and the way that he carries himself and commits himself to help our team win, it’s second-to-none.”

Welker may be the biggest name whose contract is up, but the Patriots will also have to look at resigning Rob Ninkovich, Danny Woodhead, Patrick Chung, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, center Ryan Wendell and Aqib Talib. Maybe, the wound of the loss was still too fresh for Belichick to want to address if these players would be returning or not, but he not only deflected questions about free agents, but flat out shut them down.

“We will not make any decisions on any players into the future now. You just can’t do it,” Belichick said. “There are too many factors, too many unknown things. All the things I said about Aqib, I meant and I still feel that way. Nothing has changed, but I can’t put into place an entire plan for the team at this point in time. There’s just not enough information; it’s too early.”

“And again as I said, I don’t think you can, as much as you want to just go case by case and list each guy and what his deal is, I think that there is some of that, no question — but at the same time, when you’re trying to put together a team, you’ve got to look at the entire team before you just say, ‘OK well, we want to try to keep this guy. Well, we don’t want to keep this guy’ or ‘We want to try to get somebody else,’ or whatever. You’ve got to look at the entire context of the team and not just take it one guy, piece by piece. I don’t think that’s the way you put together an entire football team. You’ve got to see the big picture and how it all fits together and there are a lot of factors that go into that. That’s why it takes some time.”

With so many key players to resign, the Patriots will not be able to return everybody and things may get messy. However, when you draft as well as they have during Belichick’s tenure and considering Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, I think the Patriots should be just fine in 2013. But the biggest concern for them is will they be championship caliber? And right now, the answer to think question appears to be no.

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