The next major date on the NFL’s offseason calendar is right around the corner, with the deadline to use the franchise tag coming up at 4 pm ET on March 9th. Any team that plans on using the tag to prevent one of its unrestricted free agents from entering the open market this year will have to apply it at that point.
However, the uncertainty surrounding the league’s salary cap may force that deadline to be pushed back. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, “several” general managers around the league are already are preparing for that move to take place should no cap numbers for the 2021 season be announced in the coming hours.
Such a move would not be unprecedented, though. Last offseason, the franchise tag window was extended right up until the start of the legal tampering period. This, in turn, created some late movement with free agency coming up.
Back in 2020, the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations were the reason for the extension.
This year, the salary cap talks in light of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic could mess up the original offseason schedule: the cap is expected to go down with Covid-19 severely impacting the NFL’s revenue numbers last year, but the NFL and NFLPA are still in the process of figuring out by how much the spending threshold will be moved.
As for the New England Patriots, they will likely sit back and watch the dominoes fall into place regardless of whether the franchise tag window is extended or not. After all, they are not expected to use the tag after already applying it on guard Joe Thuney last offseason.
In theory, Thuney is a candidate to be tagged a second time. However, it seems far more likely that New England will let this year’s deadline — whenever it comes — go by without making a move on him or any other member of its free agency class.
Despite the team finding itself in a comfortable financial situation and projected to be around $64 million under the cap, applying the tag makes little fiscal sense from its current perspective. After all, Thuney is the only blue-chip player among the Patriots’ unrestricted free agents, with others such as center David Andrews or defensive tackle Lawrence Guy not worth the hefty price tag associated with the franchise tag.
That said, the organization will still keep a close eye on how other teams will use it. Marquee free agents such as quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receivers Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay, or tight end Hunter Henry are all candidates to be tagged this year — all while playing position that New England needs to address over the course of the offseason.