Feb 5, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) reacts after stepping into the endzone for a touchdown against the New York Giants during the second half of Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Morning Cup Of Gronk

Health was an issue for the Patriots’ linebackers last season, and the lack of depth hurt the defense. Still, the talent exists, and if they avoid injuries, this position could be a point of strength in 2012.

The contract standoff between Wes Welker and the New England Patriots has gone on for months now. The Pats franchised their all-time slot receiver, who led the NFL in receptions three of the last five seasons, guaranteeing him $9.515 million for the 2012 season. But as it is with every player saddled with a one-year guarantee, Welker wants more years and more security. Whether he’s earned it or not is up for debate — some would say that Welker should enjoy the benefits of catching passes from Tom Brady and shine it on, while others might say that New England’s offense (and Brady by proxy) didn’t really blow up until Welker came on board before the 2007 season. And both sides have a legitimate point. One thing’s for sure — Welker has been the only bastion of security for Brady in a half-decade of receiver roulette.

Welker was given the franchise tag of $9.5 million by the Patriots just before the start of free agency, a move that was supposed to buy time for the team and the receiver to get together on a new deal.

The Boston Globe’s Greg Bedard reported Sunday that the Patriots and Welker are about $6 million in guaranteed money apart from one another, a big divide heading into the final week of negotiations. Welker and the Patriots can negotiate on a long-term contract until July 16 at 4 p.m. At that point, the two sides could no longer negotiate until the end of the season, and Welker would be forced to play the season under the $9.515 million franchise tag. Bedard breaks it down:

ESPN is televising a 30-part Jaws’ QB Countdown series where NFL analyst and noted film room guru Ron Jaworski examines each of the league’s veteran starting quarterbacks and Tim Tebow. The daily series began June 11 on the 9 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter and culminates with Jaworski’s top-ranked quarterback Tuesday, July 10.

Aaron Hernandez’s versatility could pay off should the New England Patriots decide to apply a franchise tag designation on him when his contract expires after the 2013 season.

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