Wes Welker made the rounds at the Daytona 500, meeting Jimmie Johnson, last month. (Jerry Markland / AP)

New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker will give free agency a try, according to an ESPN report.

Although he’s long been a favorite of quarterback Tom Brady, Welker doesn’t think he’s always had the affection of the front office and, according to Yahoo’s Jason Cole, has mild yet lingering disdain for the team over how he was used last season. Wellker, who was famously ineffective in the Patriots’ 2012 Super Bowl loss, was given the franchise tag last offseason but was not issued a franchise tender before Monday’s deadline. It was the first time since 2008 that the Patriots opted not to use the tag.

Welker, 31, led the Patriots with 118 receptions for 1,354 yards and scored six touchdown last season. Although he caught eight passes for 117 yards in the AFC championship game loss to the Baltimore Ravens, he dropped a big third-down pass in the second half.

There’s more than just money riding on this for Welker, Cole writes.

Of course, as long as Tom Brady is throwing the ball, Welker is going to get his chances in New England. The only things standing in the way is if Welker doesn’t re-sign or if he gets hurt.

Again, this is a tough call for Welker, who made $9.4 million last year as the team’s franchise player but will hit the open market this time for the first time in his career. Welker will be 32 next season, so this contract is really the last chance for him to cash in.

The temptation to max out every dollar in this contract is obvious. Against that temptation, Welker needs to consider what his legacy is worth. Three more years of catching passes from Brady could get him to well over 1,000 receptions in his career, perhaps even up over 1,100 (Welker had 768 already). A Super Bowl ring would help solidify his status as a hero in Boston, one of those guys who eventually make money just being who he is.

Go to another city on a cash grab and there’s a good chance that you’re looked at as little more than a carpetbagger. In fact, fans in another town might focus on what Welker is not rather than what he is.

Welker is not a deep threat (he has averaged only 11.2 yards per catch) and he’s really not even much of a scoring threat (he has 38 career TDs and never more than nine in a season). His game is built on nuance, such as the quick footwork he uses to get away from defenders coupled with his ability to read defenses with Brady as if they were two people sharing one brain.

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