Welker will go before Hernandez. Gronk's extention is done. If Welker plays out this season under his tender and doesn't sign a long term deal then there's the $ to sign AHern. Ballard, surely you jest. Fells was brought in to block, and can catch some. Same with Ballard. Scaife is an off-season body and I'd be surprised if he stays on the 53-man roster. None of these guys have been brought in the replace AHern. None are even in the ballpark skillset wise.
They paid Gronk now paving the way to pay AHern next year, so they wouldn't have both contracts come due at the same time.
I think Welker stays put for now, yes he has not signed the franchise tender yet, but he is saying good things publicly, which is smart because outside of the Pat's system he is pedestrian, he knows he has to stay in NE and with Tom Brady or he retires much earlier than would otherwise need to.
It's not just the TE's at play here, NE is very smart about this and has demonstrated the willingness to do this in the past. They know that affording a new contract for Hernandez in 2014 jeopardizes their ability to keep Wilfork, Gostkowski, Vereen, Ridley, Mallet and Fanene..... Ballicheat loves depth, and will not forsake it to keep a luxury. He does not need to repalce Hernandez, just fill in behind Gostkowski.
Ballard was not drafted, he becomes a restricted free agent in 2014, so they can keep him dirt cheap until 2015 too. In 2013 and 2014 the Pat's will start looking hard for Brady's successor as well, the cost of getting a franchise QB must be considered. The picks they can garner from a Hernandez trade might allow them to move into a spot to access elite QB talent.
With Lloyd on site, he can provide in the role of stretching the defense that Hernandez was giving......the writing is on the wall, but you have to be willing to read it