Today marked the first day that NFL teams can assign the franchise tag to their impending free agents. The deadline to assign the tag is March 5th.
For the Patriots, the most obvious candidate to receive the tag is wide receiver Wes Welker. Welker, 30, is scheduled to become a free agent for the first time since being traded to New England during the 2007 offseason.
For obvious reasons, both sides likely would want to avoid having the tag assigned by reaching a long term deal before the deadline on March 5th. Right now, however, that doesn't appear too likely as the sides seem to be far apart. In fact, Ian Rapoport reported as such earlier today:
The talks do not appear to have gone smoothly. Discussions between his representatives and the Patriots have not yet included a breakthrough, a source said.
While some are predicting that the Patriots could let Welker hit the open market, I see that scenario as highly unlikely. The two sides do have time to work out a deal. And if they do come close to a deal, the Patriots still could assign Welker the tag as they did with Vince Wilfork in 2009.
Of course, the Patriots could simply be content with having Welker play out the one year contract under the franchise tag, which is expected to be worth $9.6 million. After all, Welker will be 31 at the start of the 2012 NFL season, and signing him to a contract beyond three years could prove to be a significant risk. If this was the Patriots' intention, the question would then become whether Welker would seek a hold-out.
What's my opinion in all of this? I honestly believe that both sides want this thing to work, and that alone will set the necessary course to get this deal done. I do think Welker will receive the tag, but I also think the team will be able to work out an extension (likely three year deal) before that deadline (sometime in July?) comes to pass.