Yesterday marked the first day of the off-season where teams could designate their free agents with the franchise tag. A tagged player will receive a one-year contract for the greater amount of the average of the top 5 contracts at the position, or 120% of their prior season's salary. The deadline to tag a player is 4 PM EST on March 2nd.
The Patriots should tag safety Devin McCourty, and I believe that's there's an understanding of the implications.
New England and Bill Belichick want McCourty around due to his versatility, intelligence, leadership, and top level of play. McCourty wants to stay in New England not only because it's become his home, but also because the Patriots win and his brother has been in his ear about how terrible it is to lose.
Typically, players resent the franchise tag because it prevents the player from receiving a competitive long term contract on the open market due to the compensation (two first round picks) other franchises much provide. Unless the player is a quarterback, no team is willing to pay that cost, so the player is usually retained.
McCourty, however, has to understand that he is a priority for the Patriots to extend, but they can't at this current point because of the cap space. I believe the Patriots will be open and forthright during the negotiations because Darrelle Revis' current contract situation is utilizing all of the cap.
In a recent interview with NJ.com, both Devin and his brother Jason seem to imply that the safety wants to stay in New England.
"As March closes in he'll get a chance to see what New England wants to do, and I know he wants to be back there; he feels like that's home," Jason told NJ.com. "I think that's where he'll want to play his entire career.
"It's going to be hard to get him out of New England."
Devin alludes to the fact he's not really expecting to hit the open market.
"I haven't really thought about it that much, even though the season is over and that's kind of the top thing on the list," Devin said. "I think just coming down off the Super Bowl run and winning that, maybe next week or the week after it will really start to set in as it really gets closer to the whole free agency, franchise tag and all of that.
"[Jason McCourty will] do his recruiting part if I get to the open market."
The franchise tag would be the best move for both McCourty and the Patriots, as it would buy time for the Patriots to not just negotiate with Revis, but also come to terms with a long term deal with McCourty.
Historically, the Patriots have been fair to those who have been designated with the franchise tag.
In 2012, the Patriots tagged Wes Welker, and offered him a two year contract in March of 2013 (after offering him a two year contract extension in 2011), which he declined.
In 2011, Logan Mankins received the tag and signed a six year contract by August.
In 2010, Vince Wilfork received the tag and signed a five year contract the next month, in March.
In 2009, the Patriots tagged Matt Cassel in a sign-and-trade with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Look for McCourty to go through similar motions, where he's tagged and receives and extension early during the off-season.