The Pats have 3 very important free agents this off-season: Welker, Talib, and Vollmer. You could likely make a case for any one of these great players to get the tag slapped right on, preventing that said player from entering free agency, but the main question is who?
Why he should get tagged
- For argument's sake, lets ignore Ron Borges's source believing that the source was smoking a joint in bat country. In terms of efficiency, no Patriot WR was close to Wes Welker. He is the engine to the Patriots offense. When Brady hits him in stride for a first down, the offense suddenly gets in business. The chemistry with Brady, and the reliability that Welker brings for Brady needing a first down or simply needing a safety blanket for a scary pass rush, is what makes this little engine be the most gameplanned receiver on the Patriots roster. Whenever teams face the Patriots, I'm sure Gronk gets a good amount of attention, but because Welker is targeted so damn much and is insanely hard to cover, this makes him a proven commodity for the Patriots, and especially for Tom Brady, to get drives going and win games.
- I'm not very in tune with pro football focus or pro football reference (or even football outsiders), but according to advancednflstats.com, Wes Welker is the 3rd WR with the most WPA (Win Probability Added). 3rd only to Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson. From what I read here on the WPA. Welker's WPA is 2.33, with CJ and AJ being well over .35 WPA ahead of Welker. Make no mistake, 2.33, is a very high number, so with Welker on the field, our WPA is considerably better than without him on the field. The next Patriot WR is Brandon Lloyd, who has a .89 WPA.
- Every season but one, Welker has caught over 100 catches, and over 1000 yards, and also has a 67% catch rate with the 3rd most targets in the NFL at 200 at the 11th spot on WRs in the NFL (25.7% targets by NE) which is very high. 9 of those Wrs are not even close to Welker in terms of targets (the only one who is is Andre Johnson, who has about 20 less targets than Welker). So he is not only very efficient, but dependable.
Why he should not get tagged
- The amount of money to tag Welker is a lot. Just over 11 million in cap will be spent to retain him with the tag. This will have us with limited cap space to use for getting a couple key free agents to improve our defense and offense.
- Even if we tag him, and try to negotiate a deal, it seems Welker will still want elite money. It can be likely that we would go on for another season without signing Welker again, and though we would keep him, the limited cap space will not allow us to make much progress on our defense or get an OL or WR.
- The amount of money Welker wants is normally for guys who can run all of the route tree, and not most of the route tree. Welker is not a deep threat, but the amount of money he wants would say otherwise, if we are to assume he wants something around 3-5 years with 8-12 million per year. He most likely wants to be financially secured, which means guaranteed money as well.
- I could see how Welker may limit our offense. Unless we trade Aaron Hernandez, we have Welker, Gronk, and Herndo all for the middle of the field, and Lloyd for the middle and outside. BB likes to have the two TE sets, and have the ability to have Herndo or Gronk stretch to the slot or outside even. If we have Welker, our focus to the middle of the field will be too much. Without Welker, if we are able to replace him with a guy who can go deep, our offense will not be limited to one area of the field. So there is less incentive to really sign Welker, when you especially have Hernandez, Gronk, and Ballard as your middle of the field and down the seam threats.
- Welker is not our best player. Gronkowski is. Gronk was hit with a freak accident. An accident that will likely not happen ever again. He can block very well for our run game, and is a dynamite threat in the passing game creating extreme amounts of mismatches. And then you have Hernandez to complement him.
Why he should get tagged
- The best CB the Patriots have had since Asante Samuel. Big, Physical, Athletic are all traits that describe Talib who is not only still young at 27 years old, but is talented enough to have BB keep him on an Island against the opponent's #1 WR. Even the elite ones such as Wayne and Andre Johnson. With the ability to do this, not only could we expand McCourty to Safety, and keep Arrington in the slot CB position where he belongs, but we are able to use more man coverage (we seem incapable playing full zone, leaving holes open often) and blitz more often. Belichick does not have a good track record at all in getting DBs, let alone CBs, in the draft. With Talib arguably being the best CB in free agency, it would be wise for us to tag him, and then sign him. We already know what Talib can do in the system. With his measureables coming into play, and the fact that any good CB on the market will likely be overpaid, Talib makes perfect sense.
- Really good in coverage against most WRs, and is a really good tackler. Very physical, which is what the Patriots need in our secondary. Adds leadership as well.
Why Talib should not get tagged
- Numbers-wise, Talib was not amazing. Or even that god. Nick Underhill reports that PFF also believes Talib to be one of the worst CBs in the NFL last season (Seriously???).
- The franchise tag will cost more than a WR's franchise tag
- If we are to go off a statistics basis, than we would be better off signing another free agent Cb that we presume will not receive a ton of money, and then draft a CB in the first round. We need to keep McCourty at Safety where he has excelled.
- Talib can be replaced. Despite our lack of success at drafting CBs, it's not like we'll suck at it forever. Alfonzo Dennard and Devin McCourty have proven to be capable CBs at least. Dowling, despite his injury prone status, has shown that he has the ability to be a good CB (so in this sense, it was not talent, but just a lack of staying healthy). Talent-wise, I think we are starting to see that we can draft a good CB, and this year's crop has some really talented CBs that could be really good #1. Would it not be better to draft a CB instead, long term and much, much cheaper money? We could even trade down to get more picks, and pick up a CB. Talib is good, but is he good enough to franchise tag, spending just under 10 million of cap space, instead of drafting a CB? we could use that cap space to even sign Vollmer, or any other needs in free agency.
Why we should tag him
- When healthy, Vollmer is rated as one of, if not the best, RT in the NFL. The Pats were very slim in depth at OT this past year, and Vollmer is a proven commodity that is extremely dependable on keeping the right side safe and sound for Brady. With Solder, we boast one of the best OT duos in the NFL in my humble opinion.
- The franchise tag on OL is under 10 million. Cheaper than both Talib and Welker.
- Back was not an issue much of last year, and OL tend to be much cheaper to sign long-term than most positions in the NFL, which will not only lock up Vollmer, but we would be able to continue to improve upon defense and offense with better cap space. If Vollmer escapes into the market, than we probably won't outbid the highest bidder. OL will be plucked up fast.
- Only committed one penalty the entire year. An offsides penalty. Think on that for a sec. lol
- Football Outsiders has nothing but praise for Vollmer, highlighting his game against Baltimore in particular.
Why we should not tag him
- Scarnecchia, our very own Ol coach, is one of the best in the league. We have the ability to just pick out OL and essentially make starter material out of them. If Vollmer leaves, it is not out of the realm of possibility that we would be able to fill in his position with ease because of Scar and apparent ability of drafting talented OL.
- Vollmer will still have the lingering back issue. Despite his great performance last year, and relatively injury free, he is still very susceptible to injuring it again, as he has shown for most of his career here that his back issues remain a nuisance (I believe he had some back issues earlier in the year too, and even spent much time on the injury report even though he played). He did not play against the Jets in week 12, and he played hurt against Miami the following week when Wake was destroying his side of the OL. With our ability to find, and plug in, OL and keep up a very good offensive makes loosing Vollmer a mild one.
For me it's between Talib and Welker. Both players have proven to be difference makers on both sides of the ball, and contribute to winning games in different manners. Because of the recent reports that the Patriots are unlikely to tag Welker, it is a very good possibility that Talib will end up getting tagged. In wake of Dennard's trial, and for the fact that 1) Talib proved he can be a difference maker on defense and 2) signing Vollmer will not cost nearly as much as signing a CB, and 3) our defense is perceptively the weakest half of our team, all seems to point in the franchise tagging of Talib. In my opinion, that's fine for me.
P.S. Secondary and WR will still likely be the top needs heading into the draft. WIth the combine starting today, and free agency starting soon, a lot can happen with draft boards and who's going to pick who. Stay tuned for some updates during those periods of time.