The NFL franchise tag window is open, but don’t expect the New England Patriots to join in on the action. The team, after all, is not expected to use the tag on one of its pending free agents in 2023.
A look at the Patriots’ list of free agents is all it takes to find out why. While it includes starters in all three phases of the game, there appear to be no marquee candidates worthy of receiving the tag and the salary cap implications it would bring.
The two most realistic candidates to get tagged are wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and cornerback Jonathan Jones.
Meyers has been the team’s No. 1 wide receiver for the last three seasons, and finished his 2022 campaign with a team-high 804 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 67 catches. Given that this year’s crop of free agent wideouts is all-in-all underwhelming, the former rookie free agent might just be the top option available — if he reaches the open market.
As for Jones, he originally began his career in the slot. In light of Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson departing New England within five months of one another, however, the veteran was asked to kick out to the perimeter. He was no shutdown cornerback by any means, but he did play some quality football for one of the better defenses in the NFL in 2022.
Meyers and Jones are certainly priority free agents and the Patriots do have the resources to fit both players under the cap in 2023. Whether or not they are worthy of the franchise tag is a different story altogether, though. After all, the tag — in its essence a fully-guaranteed one-year contract — comes with a considerable salary cap impact.
Tagging Meyers would cost the Patriots $19.74 million; Jones would command $18.14 million. This would make them the league’s 14th- and 9th-highest paid players at their respective positions heading into 2023.
For comparison, the team’s current highest cap number for 2023 is Pro Bowler Matthew Judon at $18.61 million. His cap hit ranks 17th among all NFL outside linebackers.
New England might use the tag as a placeholder of sorts, though, if the team is close to striking a long-term deal with one of them or is planning to execute the old tag-and-trade maneuver it executed back in 2003 and 2009. Realistically, however, it is more likely that the Patriots will simply forgo using the franchise tag in 2023.
As a result, they would have gone two years in a row without employing it:
2002: K Adam Vinatieri signed a three-year, $5.4 million contract extension.
2003: S Tebucky Jones was tagged and traded to the New Orleans Saints for third- and seventh-round draft picks in 2003 and a fourth-rounder in 2004.
2005: K Adam Vinatieri played the 2005 season on the $2.51 million franchise tag before signing with the Indianapolis Colts the following offseason.
2007: CB Asante Samuel held out until late August but ultimately played the 2007 season on the $7.79 million tag before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles the following offseason.
2009: QB Matt Cassel was tagged and traded to the Kansas City Chiefs — together with linebacker Mike Vrabel — for a second-round draft pick in 2009 (that later turned into safety Patrick Chung).
2010: DT Vince Wilfork signed a five-year, $40.0 million contract extension.
2011: G Logan Mankins signed a six-year, $51.0 million contract extension.
2012: WR Wes Welker played the 2012 season on the $9.5 million franchise tag before signing with the Denver Broncos the following offseason.
2015: K Stephen Gostkowski signed a four-year, $17.2 million contract extension.
2020: G Joe Thuney played the 2020 season on the $14.78 million franchise tag before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs the following offseason.
As this list shows, the Patriots used the franchise tag with different outcomes in the past. Some players were tagged and traded — as noted above — while others left after one year on the tag. In four cases the use of the tag eventually led to some long-term deals being reached further down the line.
Another player being added to that list in 2023 could happen. However, you should not count on it.