The NFL's 2018 free agency is getting closer. The latest sign of it is the opening of the franchise tag window: Beginning today, teams can start assigning the franchise tag on one of their upcoming free agents. Just don't expect the New England Patriots to be among the franchises using the tag – despite their list of free agents including starters in all three phases of the game.
The most likely candidates for the Patriots to use the tag on are offensive tackle Nate Solder, running back Dion Lewis or cornerback Malcolm Butler. Neither of the three players will receive it, though: Solder's contract does not permit the team to tag him, Lewis' tag would be worth around $12.1 million, and Butler seems to be a safe bet to leave New England after he was essentially benched for the Super Bowl.
None of the Patriots' other free agents appears to be worth getting tagged until the window closes on March 6, which means that the team will highly likely not use the franchise tag for the third straight year. New England last applied it in 2015, when kicker Stephen Gostkowski was tagged and later signed a four-year, $17.2 million contract extension. It was the ninth overall time that the Bill Belichick-led Patriots tagged one of their players.