There are only about 30 hours left for NFL teams to designate franchise and/or transition tag players for 2017, and the Patriots have yet to use either of theirs. Many observers believe LB Dont'a Hightower was the prime candidate for either, but according to an ESPN reporter who covers the team regularly, Hightower might not get tagged.
"It would be a surprise if the Patriots use the franchise tag on Hightower… based on the projected cost. That wouldn't necessarily mean Hightower and the Patriots won't ultimately come to an agreement on an extension," he asserts, "but it strengthens the possibility that Hightower would… assess other options."
A Boston Herald column counters, saying the Patriots are playing a dangerous game if they don't secure Hightower's services somehow.
"Sure, players can be replaced," she argues, "but let's not get completely ridiculous. Think about what Hightower does. He is the quarterback of the defense. He is the translator for Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, putting everyone in the right positions to deal with the offenses the Patriots face every week. He sometimes calls the defense based on what he sees.
"He's a leader and a playmaker, having made two of the biggest plays in the last two Super Bowls to help assure victory… If Hightower gets to free agency, he might not come back as safety Devin McCourty did after Belichick made a final pitch."
Yet another local scribe from the Patriot Ledger declares that the Patriots must be willing to pay the price for Hightower to remain in Foxborough.
"The Patriots would be better off taking chances with Hightower's durability than being left defenseless by his departure," he concludes.
Another ESPN blog post offers an update on WR Michael Floyd, whose current legal predicament could have an impact on his upcoming free agency.
A WEEI.com blog post lists some Patriots who could be asked to take pay cuts this spring to stay with the team.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have needs at other positions which could be addressed in April's NFL Draft, as a WEEI.com column details.
"Many assumed the Patriots would draft a running back last year, but they didn't. Clearly, there's a need for a powerful in between the tackles back," he asserts, "and it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to get someone who could potentially be the running back of the future."
And just quickly looking ahead, this week the NFL Scouting Combine begins, and your best source for all the news out of Indianapolis is right here on patriots.com. Our PFW team is heading out there today and will be posting stories tomorrow through Sunday.