FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots have placed the franchise tag on Wes Welker, the receiver who caught more passes than anyone else in the NFL last season but couldn't come down with one that might have clinched a Super Bowl victory.
The move means Welker would be paid about $9.5 million for next season unless the sides work out a long-term deal. Another team could still try to sign Welker, but the Patriots would have the right to match the offer or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if they don't.
"Wes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007," the Patriots said in a statement. "Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal. Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come."
Welker's exact salary would not be set until the league determines the salary cap for next season.
The Patriots designated Vince Wilfork as their franchise player in 2010 and Logan Mankins last year. Both players had the tag lifted when they agreed to contract extensions.
Welker has been selected to the Pro Bowl for four consecutive seasons. Last year, he led the NFL with 122 receptions and was second in the league with 1,569 yards receiving.
But he could not come down with a critical pass from Tom Brady in the Super Bowl on a second-and-11 with 4:06 to play. Welker twisted to reach for the ball, which was thrown behind him, but it bounced off his hands.
"The ball is right there," Welker said. "I've just got to make the play."
The Patriots failed to make a first down, and the Giants then drove down the field for the go-ahead touchdown in a 21-17 victory. Ever since, New England fans have been debating whether the play was Welker's fault or Brady's.
Welker, 30, is one of two receivers with more than one season of at least 120 catches, along with Cris Carter. He joins Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice as the only players in NFL history with four 100-catch seasons.
In his eight-year career, Welker has 650 receptions for 7,226 yards and 32 touchdowns.