That’s the everlasting question of our time. Or at least the time which extends from now until, oh, about a week from now.

We know that Welker will test free agency, knowledge which was bestowed upon us yesterday. And we know that the Patriots remain close to a long-term deal with him, though how close depends on how you’d like to believe and place your trust in. Personally, I advise taking the Frank Underwood approach, and trusting about two people at all times while sporadically talking to a third imaginary person who you’ll pretend is watching from their living room. Not weird at all.

(Quick aside: apologies for the abundance of House of Cards references today…I finished it last night, and you need to take the rest of the day off and watch season one in its entirety now. I said it’s OK.)

But what, exactly, is Welker worth? And why aren’t the Patriots willing to pay whatever sum that is, and do it right now?

Not what he’s worth to his team. We know the answer to that, and we’ve gone over it many times. Welker remains the best slot receiver in the game, with his 240 catches over the past two years and 2,923 receiving yards with 15 touchdowns. The Patriots fully realize his value on the field too, especially in their system, and especially paired with Tom Brady. Their hesitancy is largely tied to his age (he’ll be 32 in May), and the asking price (about $10 million annually) for a receiver of that vintage.

OK, fine. But even with the concern surrounding that number, Welker has more than proven his financial worth. Yes, there’s a way to quantify exactly how much production a team is getting for each dollar they spend on a player. It’s a simple process really, and when the Boston Herald’s Ron Borges did it with Welker, he quickly determined that the wideout should be insulted following the treatment he’s received from the Patriots’ brass:

In the six years Welker has been with the Patriots, he’s been paid roughly $27,642,115. He earned $9,515,000 of that last season after being given the franchise tag, meaning he earned nearly a third of his total Pats compensation in 2012.

Welker has 741 catches (including the playoffs) and 41 receiving touchdowns for the Patriots. That’s roughly $37,303 per catch.

The former Chad Ochocinco played one season here, was paid $6 million and caught 16 passes at a price of $375,000 per catch.

Brandon Lloyd arrived last year and was paid $4,004,805 (including $1 million in deferrals to March 31). He caught 86 passes (12 in the playoffs) at a rate of $46,567 per reception.

In three seasons, Aaron Hernandez has been paid $14,515,000, including a signing bonus last season of $12,500,000 to renegotiate his contract even though the Patriots had full control of him for two more seasons. That bonus was $3 million more than Welker was paid on March 6, 2007, after agreeing to extend his contract for five years one day after being acquired from the Dolphins.

During Hernandez’s three seasons with the Pats, he has 210 catches at a cost of $69,119 per reception.

Hmmm. So you’re saying that the Patriots have found a pretty sweet bargain in their diminutive slot guy who’s recorded five 100-reception seasons under their watch.

That alone is a good enough reason to finally pay the man, before we consider the vast under performance of Lloyd, and the fact that over the past two years Gronk and Hernandez have missed a combined 13 games.

Welker’s 118 catches while playing under a franchise tag this past season means that he made $80,635 per catch. Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall tied Welker’s reception total, and his pay per catch was similar ($78,813). If age is the hang up, Marshall is three years younger. But although he was targeted a little more often, the two finished second and third in overall targets (Marshall had 194, while Welker had 174).

The fact that Welker is utilized nearly as often as Marshall despite the presence of so many other options in the Pats’ offense further shows his value compared to the league’s other top receivers. Age diminishes it only slightly, and if logic prevails that factor should lead to a deal in the $9 million range, just below what Welker is seeking. That’s fair, and that’s respectful given his accomplishments.

But when dealing with cash and commitments, fair and respectful often isn’t the Patriot way.