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Former NFL agent sees Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski as a candidate for the franchise tag next offseason

New England’s kicker will hit the open market next March.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots are in the middle of another run towards the playoffs, but with every game and week something else comes closer as well: free agency — and the next one will be big for the club. While the Patriots already took care of one star player when they agreed to a contract extension with right guard Shaq Mason, 18 more players are currently scheduled to hit the open market next March.

The biggest names on the list include defensive edge Trey Flowers, left tackle Trent Brown, and wide receiver Chris Hogan — as well as Stephen Gostkowski. The Patriots’ kicker is currently in the final season of a four-year, $17.2 million deal he signed in July 2015. Considering that he is still among the NFL’s best kickers, the veteran is a serious candidate for another new deal.

If one cannot be reached over the next three months, however, the Patriots might opt to go a different route: the franchise tag. And according to former NFL agent Joel Corry, Gostkowksi is one of the most realistic players to receive it. “Gostkowski could have his sights set on becoming the league’s first $5 million per year kicker,” Corry writes in a recent story for CBS Sports in which he outlines the most realistic candidates to receive the tag.

“It will cost $5.98 million for New England to franchise Gostkowski under the 120 percent of the prior year’s salary rules,” he continues. The 34-year old is an interesting candidate for the franchise tag considering that the projected number for kickers is far more reasonable than the one for defensive edges like Flowers or offensive linemen like Brown: Flowers’ one-year deal would likely command around $17.3 million, Brown’s $14.2 million.

What also makes Gostkowski a realistic candidate to receive the tag next March is historical precedent: he also is the last player to be tagged by the team. Before signing his multi-year extension in 2015, Gostkowski was given the tag to buy the team and the player more time to reach an agreement — a route the team also went with ex-kicker Adam Vinatieri (2002), defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (2010) and guard Logan Mankins (2011, after a holdout).

So while New England might have bigger names about to hit the open market, the kicker might ultimately again be the one to receive the tag.