Wes Welker's agents dispute Robert Kraft's version of talks

Wes Welker's agents have fired back against Robert Kraft, countering comments the New England Patriots owner made Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting.

In an email to NFL.com, Athletes First characterized the club's lone proposal to the receiver as being a "take-it-or-leave-it offer."

"When we asked if there was room for structural changes, we were told no," the Athletes First statement read. "We made a counter-offer for the same term and same maximum dollar amount and it was rejected. We inquired if any of the offer's components were negotiable and were told no. This refusal to actually negotiate made it easy to reject the Patriots' offer."

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Welker signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Denver Broncos on Wednesday.

Kraft went on the offensive Monday, providing detail and insight into the negotiations with Welker far beyond the level to which the Patriots normally go publicly. The owner said he wished the Patriots had done a deal with Welker after franchising him at $9.5 million last year.

"In retrospect, I wish we could have wrapped that into an arrangement where it was part of a longer-term deal," Kraft said. "But 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 that is less money than what we offered him."

Welker's camp had pursued an offer from the Patriots over the days and weeks leading up to free agency, but didn't get one until hours before he hit the market last Tuesday at 4 p.m., NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported last week. That left little room for further negotiation. In the meantime, a source with intimate knowledge of Welker's position said, the wideout's representatives sent the Patriots one proposal on March 7, five days before the start of free agency, and a second one that weekend.

The Patriots' final offer was two years for $10 million. Incentives could have pushed the deal to $16 million. The offer to Welker included $1 million incentives for making All-Pro each year, $1 million incentives for 1,500 yards receiving each year, $1 million for being a Pro Bowl starter in 2014 and $1 million for 1,300 yards in 2014. According to the source, Welker's camp then suggested something in the range of the two-year, $14 million that the Tennessee Titans offered the receiver, with incentives to push it to $16 million.

A Patriots source said that the incentives in that counterproposal were $500,000 triggers in 2014 for 70, 80 and 90 catches, and a Pro Bowl berth, and that the $14 million was to be fully guaranteed. The team source said one earlier proposal from the player's side was for $18.5 million over two years, with a $15 million signing bonus.

The source on Welker's side disputes that the $14 million was to be fully guaranteed and said the triggers were set higher than 70, 80 and 90 catches for 2014, while acknowledging the Pro Bowl trigger. Additionally, the source denied the existence of the two-year, $18.5 million proposal, saying those numbers were part of a longer-term concept that the sides had discussed.

The negotiation was handled chiefly by Nick Caserio and the Patriots football operations staff on the club side, and David Dunn and Brian Murphy on the player's side.

From the perspective of Welker's camp, communication on the negotiation was handled with the football operations staff, and not on the ownership level until the very end. But Kraft, at least outwardly, seemed deeply involved with the situation. The owner repeatedly said Monday that Welker was the Patriots' first choice, and that Danny Amendola -- who signed a five-year deal with the club last week -- was the team's backup plan.

"We wanted him, and we were willing to pay him slightly above what we believed his market value to be, and in fact, what it is," Kraft said. "We in fact did it, if you look at what he accepted, and what was out there. The unfortunate part, the agent is playing poker with us, we have to decide. Are we going to be left completely naked here? Or do we go out and do the best job we can do to fill that position with the information we have available to us? And that's what we did. Time will tell what was right."

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The Patriots' offer last July to Welker was for five years and included a $15 million signing bonus, while Welker's side proposed a shorter-term deal with similar up-front money. In the end, those talks broke down over control on the back end of the contract. The $15 million bonus became a continued sticking point.

That context is important, because, according to the source, Welker felt like the deal offered last summer was better than last week's offer, which illustrates how history played into this particular situation. Welker's own sense that he was being phased out of the offense early in the 2012 season played into his reluctance to accept an incentive-laden contract. The fact that he responded with 118 catches made it difficult to accept a lesser offer.

Athletes First's statement said that, "Mr. Kraft is an exceptional NFL owner with a track record of not only fielding championship teams, but also helping make the National Football League the tremendous league that it is today. It is a league that absolutely sparks passion amongst its fan base and that passion was evident yesterday from the lifelong Patriots fan Mr. Kraft. Once the frustrations settle down, however, we hope both sides will focus not upon what went wrong, but instead everything Wes did right on-and-off the field during his time with the Patriots."

Kraft offered similar sentiments on Monday.

"Welker leaving -- no one wanted it," he said. "Everyone in the Patriots wanted him to be with us. He's just so unique and so special. We wish him well, except when he plays us. I guess we'll have pretty good ratings in that game."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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