After two weeks of it being open, the NFL’s franchise tag window will come to a close today: the 26 teams that have not yet placed either the franchise or transition tag on one of their pending unrestricted free agents have only until 4:00 p.m. ET to do so. Among those clubs are the reigning world champions; the New England Patriots have plenty of candidates but so far not given any indications about using a tag.
Of the team’s 17 players headed towards the open market, three make sense as potential tag candidates: defensive edge Trey Flowers, offensive tackle Trent Brown, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Using the tag on one of the three would cost the club $17.128 million in Flowers’ case, $14.067 million in Brown’s, and $5.98 million when it comes to Gostkowski — notable numbers for fully-guaranteed one-year contracts.
So far, New England has not tipped its hand one way or the other. That being said, the club has the financial resources to pull off any of the three potential moves — at least in a vacuum, as the $24.3 million would allow the Patriots to tag either Flowers or Brown or Gostkowski or any other player it so pleases. Judging by historical precedent, however, tagging Gostkowski appears to be the most realistic move.
Both Flowers and and Brown would in turn be allowed to test the open market, an approach that New England has used multiple times in the past — with somewhat mixed results: while Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower ultimately returned to the Patriots to sign multi-year contract extensions in the springs of 2015 and 2017, Nate Solder left the team last offseason on a record-breaking deal with the New York Giants.
All in all, though, the team appears to be confident in its way of doing fiscally responsible business. And even though the Patriots are never shy of making a surprising move especially at this time of the year, seeing Flowers and Brown get the franchise tag today should not be expected — a risky move for the club, especially as it relates to Flowers, who will likely be the top edge defender available on the market.
Then again, New England has built its dynasty on making though decisions like this and staying financially flexible throughout the process.
As alluded to above, six teams have already used the franchise tag this year. They are as follows:
Atlanta Falcons: DT Grady Jarrett
Dallas Cowboys: DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney
Kansas City Chiefs: DE Dee Ford
San Francisco 49ers: K Robbie Gould
Seattle Seahawks: DE Frank Clark
If New England joins this group, it would be the first time since 2015 — when the club picked Gostkowski as its franchise player over other options like the aforementioned Devin McCourty — that the tag gets used by Bill Belichick and company.