The New England Patriots surprised many when they chose to use the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski over safety Devin McCourty yesterday. In fact, you could count McCourty among those surprised.
Some believed that this move may have been an indication that the team was close to a long-term deal with McCourty. As it turns out, the team has not been in recent communication on a new deal:
#Patriots do have a little over a week to work out a deal with McCourty; as of this AM, had not been any recent talks— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) March 2, 2015
Even McCourty himself was surprised at not receiving the franchise tag – and not because the team had given him indication otherwise. As he told ESPN’s Josina Anderson:
"I really didn’t know. There was no real information from them on if it was going to be me or Steve [Gostkowski]. So I was kind of going off of what everybody else was going off, with what people were reporting as far as sources and all that. So, I guess it's more realistic now that [there's] a chance that I might not be back there. Or there's still a chance that I will, but I guess [there's] more of a chance now with the franchise tag going to Steve that I could be playing in a different place. Still, keeping an open mind and trying to enjoy the process."
McCourty would still like to return to New England, but he has acknowledged that it just might not work out:
I want to play there, but I also understand it's a business. I don’t want to play there no matter what, but I want to be back. We'll have to see how it works out."
The important thing to remember here is that there is still a week to work things out before McCourty becomes an unrestricted free agent. The situation can change at any moment, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Patriots would not want McCourty back in the fold. However, the likelihood that McCourty is not a Patriot in 2015 seems a lot higher than it did just days ago.