The New England Patriots had until 4:00 p.m. ET today to use the franchise or transition tag on one of their players about to enter unrestricted free agency next month, but they decided against it. While the club had 17 men to choose from, only three — defensive edge Trey Flowers, offensive tackle Trent Brown, kicker Stephen Gostkowski — qualified as realistic candidates to be tagged one way or the other.
Neither of them was ultimately tagged, confirming reports from earlier today.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Patriots were unlikely to use the tag on their kicker:
While the #Patriots have not ruled out the franchise tag today, it likely won’t be on K Stephen Gostkowski. Source said he’s not expected to be tagged, though obviously the team very much wants to bring their Pro Bowler back.
There is a lot to dissect in this tweet, but let’s start with the most obvious point: New England not using the tag — essentially a fully-guaranteed one-year contract that can be applied only once per year on a free agent to be — on Gostkowski. This means that the team will save the $5.98 million it would have cost to make the move, but it also could mean more than just its financial aspect.
There are two basic scenarios stemming from this decision:
1. The Patriots are willing to let Gostkowski test the open market next week.
2a. The Patriots feel confident in their ability to re-sign Gostkowski without the tag.
2b. The Patriots and Gostkowski are close to a new deal.
While not tagging the veteran might allow him to test the free agency waters, it should still be expected to see him in a Patriots uniform next year. Him not getting the tag might even be an indicator that contract negotiations have gone well and are at a point at which both sides feel good about Gostkowski’s future outlook.
According to a report by ESPN’s Field Yates and Adam Schefter, the Patriots also did not tag Trey Flowers or Trent Brown — or any other member of their free agency class:
The Patriots are not expected to apply the franchise tag to any of their three notable free agents — DE Trey Flowers, OT Trent Brown & K Stephen Gostkowski — league sources tell @AdamSchefter & me. Now, they are each just over a week away from becoming a free agent.
Tagging either Trey Flowers or Trent Brown would have put serious financial burden on a franchise currently around $24.3 million under the salary cap. Placing the franchise tag on either the two would have cost New England $17.128 million in Flowers’ case and $14.067 million in Brown’s — numbers apparently too rich for the organization’s liking.
Now, in turn, both of the starters are scheduled to enter the open market once it opens on March 13. As opposed to the Gostkowski non-tagging, this can not necessarily be read as a positive development: both Flowers and Brown are projected to generate noticeable interest in free agency as two of the best available players at their respective positions.
The full list of Patriots scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next week looks as follows:
P Ryan Allen
DT Malcom Brown
OT Trent Brown
WR Phillip Dorsett
DE Trey Flowers
K Stephen Gostkowski
RB Jeremy Hill
WR Chris Hogan
LB Ramon Humber
OT Ulrick John
LB Albert McClellan
CB Jason McCourty
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
CB Eric Rowe
DT Danny Shelton
DE John Simon
OT LaAdrian Waddle