Between Robert Kraft’s sometimes ranting, sometimes genuinely earnest comments yesterday regarding the Patriots’ negotiations with Wes Welker and the response from the wide receiver’s agents today, we’re seeing how the free agent sausage is made. As always, it can be a gruesome, unpleasant experience.
If emotion is ever involved in a negotiation, that’s the first fatal mistake. Long ago, the Patriots learned that lesson, and Kraft said as much yesterday. Like the wide-eyed tourist touching down in Vegas for the first time, Kraft set a limit on how much he wanted to spend — and therefore gamble, to keep our neat analogy going — on Welker, and exceeding that limit wasn’t an option.
Fine, and fair enough. In a league where finances are governed by a salary cap, such a pragmatic approach is needed to maintain balance, and optimize the opportunities to compete for a championship each year. But that cold, hard line strategy can’t extend to the point where all communication is severed. When that happens, relationships die too, and so can the opportunity to retain a player.
Is that really what happened with Welker?
Sure, clearly finances were the deciding factor due to the Patriots’ lack of desire to match the exact offer given to Welker by the Denver Broncos. But after reading the response today from Welker’s agency, Athletes First, it’s fair to wonder just how deep a frosty relationship went.
From Albert Breer, here’s how Athletes First responded to Kraft:
Both sides are clear that the Patriots made one offer to Wes Welker since the prior negotiations ended in July 2012. Both sides also agree that this two-year offer came just hours before the start of free agency despite discussions that began at the NFL Combine. Moreover, this lone offer was presented as a “take it or leave it offer.” When we asked if there was room for structural changes, we were told no. We made a counter-offer for the same term and same maximum dollar amount as their offer 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. Nevertheless, when we received the Denver Broncos’ offer, Wes personally talked to Mr. Kraft to give the Patriots the opportunity to match it. The Patriots rejected this opportunity and Wes signed with the Denver Broncos.
Before we go further here, it’s important to put your bullcrap shades on. Mine come with Skip Bayless UV protection.
In a sense an agency doubles as a public relations firm for their clients. Just as it’s Kraft’s job to field the best football team, it’s the agency’s job to get Welker the best possible contact relative to the current market. But also, Athletes First needs to do damage control here, because they’re aware of the fragile nature of an NFL career. Welker is beginning to reach the conclusion of his time in the league, and the perception that they may have mishandled his contract could severely hurt opportunities to reel in future clients and therefore, you know, make money and run a business.
With that established, let’s continue…
“Despite Mr. Kraft’s impression to the contrary, the Patriots representatives who participated in these phone calls never indicated that the team “would have even gone up” on their offer, or that these discussions occurred “before we thought we were going into free agency.” Instead, the Patriots made it abundantly clear that their one offer was non-negotiable.”
Again, over less than 24 hours this has devolved into a fecal matter throwing contest, so we now need to approach the words of both Kraft and Athletes First carefully. But if there’s even a half truth to what Welker’s agents are saying here, there’s a strong odor to how little the Pats cared about any kind of human element, and actually negotiating during a negotiation. That hard line financial number can still be maintained and defended during the simple act of listening, something the Patriots evidently had no interest in, even though Welker was their first choice over Danny Amendola.
But in the end, none of this will matter next fall, or even in a week. Once September comes the Patriots will go about the business of winning a lot of football games and advancing to the playoffs, as will the Broncos. What we’ve learned yet again, though, is to immediately be very skeptical when any concept of loyalty is discussed in March by a team executive.