Already more active than usual in the early stages of free agency, as evidenced by their agreement with standout unrestricted linebacker Adalius Thomas, the New England Patriots are poised to make another bold move.
A team source told ESPN.com on Saturday that the Patriots plan to sign Miami wide receiver Wes Welker, a three-year veteran and an explosive all-around performer, to a restricted free agent offer sheet in an attempt to pirate him away from the Dolphins.
The Dolphins earlier this week made Welker a qualifying offer of $1.3 million.
When the Patriots officially execute the offer sheet to Welker, the Dolphins will have seven days to either match it or pass on it. If Miami matches the offer sheet, it will retain Welker at the terms of the deal New England negotiated with him. If the Dolphins do not match the offer sheet, they will receive a second-round pick in the 2007 draft from the Patriots as compensation.
Surrendering a second-round choice for a player of Welker's abilities would be viewed in most quarters, but especially in New England, as a steal. Welker would dramatically upgrade the New England wide receiver corps and the Pats would also benefit by taking him away from a division opponent.
Plus, the Patriots own a pair of first-round choices in the 2007 draft, and can afford to part with a second-round selection for a player of Welker's skills.
Welker, 25, is a terrific, if unheralded playmaker who has earned a spot on the ESPN.com "all unsung" team each of the past two seasons. Used principally as a return specialist in his first two seasons in the league, Welker emerged as a viable receiving threat in 2006, with 67 catches for 687 yards and a touchdown.
The former Texas Tech standout originally entered the NFL with San Diego in 2004 as an undrafted college free agent. He was waived by the Chargers early in the 2004 season and signed with the Dolphins shortly thereafter.
In 47 appearances, including three starts, Welker has 96 receptions for 1,121 yards and one touchdown. He has returned 170 kickoffs for an average of 22.7 yards and one touchdown and has 127 punt returns for a 9.7-yard average and one score.
Securing the services of restricted free agents historically has proved to be a difficult undertaking with the current system. In the 14 previous years of free agency, only 55 restricted free agents changed teams. Four restricted free agents changed teams in 2006.
In another move aimed at bolstering their offense, the Patriots on Saturday reached agreement with unrestricted free agent tailback Sammy Morris, who played the last three seasons for the Miami Dolphins. Morris will provide an experienced backup to youngster Laurence Maroney and could compensate for the release of Corey Dillon earlier this week.
A seven-year veteran, Morris has carried 374 times for 1,469 yards and 14 touchdowns and has 112 catches for 792 yards and one score. Morris, 29, also is an excellent special teams performer.