The New England Patriots did not make a move before the NFL’s franchise tag deadline on Tuesday afternoon. Their only somewhat realistic candidates — guard Joe Thuney and kicker Nick Folk — were not tagged and will therefore join the rest of the team’s free agency class on the market once it opens on March 17.
Even though that means New England will have a lot of talent possibly departing the organization, it also can feel good about how franchise tag day went overall. The Patriots, in fact, can be seen as one of its winners given who was or wasn’t tagged.
Take their major positions of need on the offensive side of the ball. While the quarterback position does not offer any high-end starter material in free agency this year — the only elite free agent passer, Dak Prescott, was tagged by the Dallas Cowboys and will soon sign a four-year contract extension worth $160 million — both the wide receiver and tight end positions will see some intriguing players become available next week.
While the two were the best pass catchers headed for free agency this year, some other A-level players will be in a position to be pursued by New England. Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay as well as tight ends Hunter Henry (Los Angeles Chargers) and Jonnu Smith (Tennessee Titans) are the biggest names among them and part of a group that also includes the Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster and the Houston Texans’ Will Fuller.
All of these players will command hefty contracts despite the salary cap being expected to go down this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The more of them will make it to the open market, however, the better from the Patriots’ perspective.
Take the tight end position as an example. Instead of Hunter Henry getting the tag and all teams in need of an upgrade at the position then going after Jonnu Smith, thus driving the price up, two elite players at the position are available this year.
The NFL is a supply and demand league, and the supply at tight end and wide receiver will be better than could have been the case had the Chargers and Lions, for example, decided to use their tags. More players on the market means more options for teams such as the Patriots to explore, which might help keep prices in a more reasonable range than otherwise.
This all bodes well for New England given the team’s salary cap situation. Even after the trade that brought back Trent Brown from the Las Vegas Raiders, they are projected to be among the league leaders in cap space this year and as such an active buyer.
Franchise tag day might have eliminated some players from the market, but it also ensured that the shelves will still be well stocked at the Patriots’ biggest positions of need.