Despite some speculation earlier this week that the franchise tag window might get extended in light of the still uncertain salary cap situation for the 2021 season, the NFL did not move Tuesday’s deadline: after 4pm ET teams were no longer allowed to use the salary cap to keep one of their upcoming unrestricted free agents from hitting the open market.
In total, 10 organizations took advantage of the tag this year. Not among them were the New England Patriots.
One year after using the tag on starting left guard Joe Thuney, the Patriots elected to stay put despite being in a far more comfortable salary cap situation this time around. As a result all 22 members of their unrestricted free agents class is now scheduled to enter the market once it opens on March 17 — a group of players that includes numerous long-time cornerstones and team captains as well as 2020’s starting quarterback Cam Newton.
On the offensive side of the ball, Newton and Thuney are joined by offensive linemen David Andrews, Jermaine Eluemunor and James Ferentz as well as running backs James White and Rex Burkhead. Wide receivers Damiere Byrd and Donte Moncrief and quarterback Brian Hoyer will also become available for other teams next week.
On defense, nine players will hit free agency. Defensive linemen Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis are joined by linebackers John Simon, Shilique Calhoun and Brandon Copeland; defensive backs Jason McCourty and Terrence Brooks are also headed towards free agency.
New England’s special teams unit could lose 2020 key contributors as well: kicker Nick Folk and core coverage players Justin Bethel and Cody Davis are in need of new deals.
Among those 22 players only Thuney and Folk were realistic candidates for the franchise tag — and even that would have been a surprise from a fiscal perspective. The Patriots apparently analyzed the situation in the same way and decided to forgo using the franchise tag for the second straight year.
Not doing that were the following 10 teams who kept some of their most talented players in the fold:
- Carolina Panthers: OT Taylor Moton
- Chicago Bears: WR Allen Robinson
- Dallas Cowboys: QB Dak Prescott*
- Denver Broncos: S Justin Simmons
- Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Cam Robinson
- New Orleans Saints: S Marcus Williams
- New York Giants: DT Leonard Williams
- New York Jets: S Marcus Maye
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Chris Godwin
- Washington Football Team: G Brandon Scherff
*placeholder deal that will soon be replaced by a four-year, $160 million contract extension
While those 10 players are kept off the market by their respective teams some other intriguing players are soon to enter it — including potential New England targets such as wide receiver Kenny Golladay (Detroit Lions) as well as tight ends Hunter Henry (Los Angeles Chargers) and Jonnu Smith (Tennessee Titans).
The Patriots, who are projected to be among the league leaders in salary cap space even after trading for offensive tackle Trent Brown, are certain to take a close look at all three.