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February 4, 2012

Record-breaking Welker could be headed to free agency

INDIANAPOLIS — To hear Chad O'Shea speak this week, it sounds like the New England Patriots are preparing for a showdown with Wes Welker.

"(Welker) does things a lot of guys in this league just physically can't do," said O'Shea, the Pats' wide receivers coach. "But he plays within our system. The receiver's job is to get open, he gets open. But he's also playing within our system."

Imagine the Pats trying to sell Welker and his people that the four-time All-Pro (twice first team) is a product of the "system."

Super Bowl XLVI could be his final game as a Patriot.

The two sides don't seem that far apart, but stranger things have happened with this team when contracts near expiration ... See Asante Samuel and Richard Seymour.

To Welker's credit, he's downplaying things.

"I plan on being back. I am not too worried about that right now," said Welker this week. "I am fully concentrated on this game and what we have to do, but I plan on being back.

"This is all stuff that we can address at another point. It can be a story after the season is over, but right now, we are just concentrating on this game. If you win this game, all the other stuff takes care of itself."

Notice the subtle message there.

A victory gives him a ring. With his first Super Bowl ring, Welker would be less likely to settle for a hometown discount.

He arrived here from Miami as a relatively unheralded player, but that's no longer the case. Four of his five seasons have been 100-plus catch seasons.

Only a crushing Week 15 injury in 2009 prevented him from a perfect 5 for 5. When that knee exploded on the turf in Houston, he stunned the football world with a recovery that had Welker back on the field in 2010. He played in 15 games that year and caught 86 balls for 848 yards.

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