FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wes Welker was jogging back to the line after running a route during the New England Patriots’ first training camp session Thursday when owner Bob Kraft arrived on the sideline and pointed in his direction.
Wasting no time, the Pro Bowl receiver immediately approached Kraft, the two sharing a quick embrace and a handshake before parting ways.
At least on the surface, everything appears to be just fine between Welker and the Patriots despite the two failing to agree on a long-term contract this offseason.
“Everyone tried. I tried, they tried, and it just didn’t work out,” said Welker, who signed a $9.5 million franchise tender on May 15. “It’s in the past and we’re moved onto this season, which we expect to be a good one.”
Welker is now resigned to playing out his one-year deal after both sides couldn’t come to terms on a longer contract before July 15, the deadline to sign franchised players to a multiyear pact.
Coming off one of the greatest seasons of his career, when he had a league-high 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and a career-best nine touchdowns in helping the Patriots reach the Super Bowl, Welker knows it’s a new year, and proving yourself, he said, comes with the territory.
“There’s no year where you don’t need to prove it. It’s like any other year,” Welker said. “The contract and everything else is out of my mind. It’s really just going out there and focusing on playing good ball.”
Welker, who tweeted after signing his tender that “hopefully doing the right thing gets the right results. (hash)leapoffaith,” said Thursday that it wasn’t difficult not to take it personally. While he clearly feels he’s deserving of a long-term deal, he also understands the business side of it.
“You always kind of think it’s going to happen and then, I don’t know. I think you just get excited,” he said. “But at the same time, you’re very fortunate the position you’re in and I look forward to really playing out this year and playing some of the best ball I can play.”
The Patriots seem intent on doing just that, too, joining a slew of former faces with familiar ones in hopes of bouncing back from a 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who guided New England’s record-setting offense in 2007, is back calling the plays for quarterback Tom Brady and the offense after serving as head coach of the Denver Broncos and offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams.
Receivers Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth, both members of that 2007 squad, also have returned, and receiver Brandon Lloyd, who played for McDaniels in both Denver and St. Louis, adds a much-needed deep threat to an already high-scoring offense.
“We have a lot of good players on our team and everybody really working together and understanding that we all work off each other,” Welker said. “The more guys we have out there doing the right thing, the better off we’re going to be as an offense. It’s exciting to see and we still have a lot of work ahead of us and we look forward to it.”
Admitting that “this is home for me and it’s great to be back,” McDaniels’ relationship with Brady appears to have picked up right where it left off.
“Every year you reestablish all those connections … you really work hard to recreate those relationships,” he said. “Each one of our relationships probably grows and matures a little bit each year and I think that’s where Tom and I are, but we’ll always try to get better and communicate better as we go forward through camp.”
McDaniels wouldn’t comment on Welker’s contract situation, saying only that he doesn’t believe it will play a role in his season.
“Wes has got a great attitude and has worked extremely hard in the offseason, had a really good day today,” McDaniels said. “I’m going to coach him hard just like I always have.”
Some fans may have forgotten the consistent contributions from the dependable receiver during his five seasons in New England, instead choosing to remember the ball he didn’t catch, a crucial second-and-11 pass from Brady with 4:06 remaining in the Super Bowl that likely would have sealed a victory for New England.
He wasn’t asked Thursday about dropping that pivotal pass, though he insinuated there’s a lot left for him to do.
“I look forward and think that I have so much more that I can prove and conquer out there,” Welker said. “I plan on working hard and doing what it takes to go out there and do it.”
And what if he has another stellar season this year and then lingers through a similar contractual dispute next summer?
Not a concern.
“That’s a great situation,” Welker said, “so not too worried about that.”