Pats’ Welker, Chiefs’ Bowe get franchise tags

Posted March 05, 2012, at 6:40 p.m.
Last modified March 05, 2012, at 7:42 p.m.

NEW YORK — It pays to play a skill position in the NFL, like New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, or receivers Wes Welker and Dwayne Bowe.

It also pays to be a kicker, as five placekickers and one punter were given franchise tags, protecting their current teams from losing them without compensation.

The NFL’s deadline for applying the tags was Monday afternoon, and a late flurry saw 10 players added to the list. In all, 21 players were tagged.

Only Brees, the 2011 AP Offensive Player of the Year, was made an exclusive franchise player, meaning he is not free to sign with another team. The Saints will continue negotiations on a long-term contract for the record-setting quarterback.

But Brees is in line to earn well over the $14.4 million base salary for a non-exclusive tag because his 2012 salary will be based on the average of the five highest-paid players at the position as of April 20. For players given the non-exclusive tag, the new salary is based on the five highest-paid players at their position in 2011.

Naturally, the average salary for quarterbacks increases every year.

The other 20 players could move to new teams, but compensation would be two first-round draft choices.

All-Pro receiver Welker was tagged by New England and Bowe by Kansas City. Welker, who led the league with 122 receptions, and Bowe will earn about $9.5 million in 2012 if they don’t reach new, longer deals with their teams.

“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.

Also tagged Monday were Titans safety Michael Griffin, Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer, Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, and several kickers: Giants punter Steve Weatherford, Denver placekicker Doug Prater, Tampa Bay placekicker Connor Barth, and Jacksonville placekicker Josh Scobee.

Among those previously tagged were Ravens running back Ray Rice, and Bears running back Matt Forte.

Free agency begins on March 13.

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