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Top Stories of 2012, No. 9: Wes Welker franchised, phased out, back to form 12.25.12 at 3:04 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. Our second entry in the countdown is No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year.

For five seasons in New England, Wes Welker seemingly could do no wrong, and it seemed unfathomable that the Patriots would not want to keep him in Foxboro for as long as possible.

Then came the drop in February’s Super Bowl loss — a difficult but catchable pass that went through Welker’s hands late in the fourth quarter. Instead of giving the Patriots a likely game-ending first down, it gave the Giants the opportunity for their game-winning drive. And suddenly Welker’s true value was being questioned by some. It didn’t help that the Patriots played hardball during contract negotiations in the offseason, electing to place the franchise tag on Welker and settle for a one-year contract rather than agree to a long-term deal.

The $9.5 million, one-year deal ensured that Welker would stay with the Patriots through the 2012 season. After that, who knows?

It certainly is possible that Welker could re-sign with the team after the season, but judging by his consistency and continued success, he might demand a larger contract next year, both in terms of money and years. For now, he is enjoying another tremendous season after professing happiness that he and the team were able to agree on a deal that kept him with a perennial Super Bowl contender.

“There are 9.5 million reasons why I wouldn’t miss any regular-season games,” Welker said during a May 14 appearance on Mut & Merloni, dismissing speculation that he would hold out for a long-term contract. “I don’t think there are any sort of hard feelings on my side or their side. I think we’re all looking forward to the 2012 season and hopefully do some big things there.”

Welker did not exactly do “big things” in the first couple of games this season, but he was not solely to blame. In the Patriots’ 34-13 victory over the Titans in Week 1, Welker’s playing time was limited and he had only three receptions for 14 yards while being targeted just five times (including a drop on third-and-8 in the first quarter). Speculation abounded that he was being phased out of the offense, either as punishment for asking for too much money or so fellow receivers such as Julian Edelman could get more of an opportunity.

Week 2 was better for Welker, as he finished with five catches for 95 yards, albeit in a 20-18 loss to the lowly Cardinals. Still, it was not the 10-catch, 100-plus-yard receiving performance New England fans were accustomed to seeing.

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Read More: 2012 Stories of the Year, Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Brandon Lloyd