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A Quick Guide to the New England Patriots and the Franchise Tag

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Let's take a look at the franchise tag and if we can expect some late movement from the Patriots.

Tag team?
Tag team?
Elsa/Getty Images

Tomorrow, the NFL's two week window to designate the franchise tag closes. Each team can tag one of its upcoming unrestricted free agents to keep said player from hitting the open market once free agency begins on March 10. The New England Patriots have two players, who are candidates to receive the franchise tag: either free safety Devin McCourty or kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

Before we take a look at the Patriots' two candidates and what the cost of keeping them via the franchise tag would be, let's go into a little more detail on the three different types of franchise tags.

Transition Tag

A one-year deal worth the average of the top 10 cap hits of the tagged player's position. The player is able to negotiate with other teams but the team that applied the tag can match any offer within five days or let the player leave without compensation. Thus, the transition tag is the riskiest option. However, it is also the cheapest one.

Exclusive Tag

A one-year deal worth the average of the top 5 cap hits of the tagged player's position or 120% of his prior year's base salary; whichever is higher. As opposed to the transition tag, a player tagged as "exclusive" is unable to negotiate with other teams. While it is the safest option to keep a player, it is also the most expensive one.

Non-Exclusive Tag

A one-year deal worth the average of the top 5 cap hits of the tagged player's position over the course of the last five seasons or 120% of his prior year's base salary; whichever is higher. The non-exclusively tagged player is still able to negotiate with other clubs but, as is the case with the transition tag, the team that applied the tag has five days to match a potential offer. If the offer is not matched, the team will receive two first round picks. The non-exclusive tag is the most commonly used form of the franchise tag.

If a team chooses to apply the franchise tag this year, it has to do so until tomorrow, March 2, 4:00 p.m. ET. Once applied, the team has until July 15 to negotiate a contract extension or otherwise the tagged player will play out the upcoming season under the fully guaranteed one-year franchise tag.

What would be the costs of doing so?

Since the non-exclusive tag is the most common form of the franchise tag, we take a look at the 2015 franchise tag amounts (via nfl.com) through the lens of this particular form of the tag. The numbers are therefore as follows:

Position Salary
Quarterback $18.51 million
Defensive End $14.78 million
Linebacker $13.17 million
Cornerback $13.05 million
Offensive Lineman $12.92 million
Wide Receiver $12.80 million
Defensive Tackle $11.17 million
Running Back $10.93 million
Safety $9.60 million
Tight End $8.33 million
Kicker/Punter $4.12 million

Can we expect the Patriots to use the franchise tag this year? Yes. It is likely that either McCourty or Gostkowski get tagged due to the relatively low costs of their respective positions and the fact that it buys more time to work on a long-term extension. Which player gets tagged most likely depends on McCourty. If the Patriots find a way to extend the All-Pro today or tomorrow prior to 4:00 p.m., the team will probably franchise Gostkowski (if it plans on using the tag). If McCourty and the Patriots cannot reach a common ground in their negotiations, he looks like the prime candidate to receive the tag (something he "would not be mad" about).

If the Patriots do indeed use the franchise tag this year, it would be the ninth time the team does so under head coach/general manager Bill Belichick (via the Boston Herald and WEEI 93.7 FM):

Year Player Tagged Tag Deadline Outcome
2002 Adam Vinatieri February 21 February 21 Signed contract extension
2003 Tebucky Jones February 20 February 20 Traded to the New Orleans Saints
2005 Adam Vinatieri February 22 February 22 Played under one-year tag; departed next offseason
2007 Asante Samuel February 16 February 22 Played under one-year tag; departed next offseason
2009 Matt Cassel February 5 February 19 Traded to the Kansas City Chiefs
2010 Vince Wilfork February 22 February 25 Signed contract extension
2011 Logan Mankins February 14 February 25 Signed contract extension (after holding out)
2012 Wes Welker March 5 March 5 Played under one-year tag; departed next offseason

Four times the Patriots applied the franchise tag on the day of the deadline (Vinatieri twice, Jones, Welker). As of right now, it looks as if 2015 will mark the fifth time.

Busy hours are probably ahead of us. Make sure to check Pats Pulpit for updates.