It would appear that the deadline to apply the franchise tag has come and gone, and for the first time in four years the New England Patriots have opted not to use it. The news doesn't come as a huge surprise, as the three most likely candidates - Wes Welker, Aqib Talib, and Sebastian Vollmer - all would have required a pretty hefty price tag and could possibly have impeded the Patriots from making moves elsewhere.
So what does that mean? Are all three players destined to be free agents? I still say no; there is still over a week left before Free Agency officially starts, which means there is plenty of time left to work out a contract. That said, I wouldn't be too surprised if at least one big-name player (my guess is Vollmer) hits the open market and at least entertains offers before agreeing to come back to New England. Plus, with the Patriots and Welker apparently making progess, I don't think it will be too long before the first signing is officially in the books.