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Patriots not likely to play tag

Until February of 2002, the Patriots had never resorted to using the Franchise Tag on a soon-to-be free agent, the bad blood the designation can create being an obvious deterrent.

But in 2002 and in 2003, the Patriots tagged Adam Vinatieri and Tebucky Jones, respectively, with the designation. With the Feb. 24 deadline to tag a player this year, it looks like New England will avoid the game of tag played each of the last two years.

Vinatieri, of course, signed a mostly guaranteed contract before ever signing the one-year Franchise offer, while Jones agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that sent him to New Orleans.

But the Patriots would be taking a major risk using the Franchise label on any of their free agents this year. The only two worth even considering for the tag are nose tackle Ted Washington and guard Damien Woody. But the cap hits would be excessive in both instances, especially if the player chose to sign the deal.

Once a player is tagged, the team counts that Franchise number against its salary cap even if the player hasn't signed the deal. The room against the cap must be available by rule.

The Franchise number for offensive linemen is set at $7.021 million and for defensive tackles, it's $5.613 million. It's hard to imagine the Patriots tagging Woody or Washington given those hefty amounts. Once tagged, the player could choose to sign the deal, accept the one-year contract with the guaranteed salary and go to free agency again next year.

There is absolutely no way New England would even consider tagging Woody, who clearly wants to test his worth on the open market.

The Patriots know Woody wants to test the market, and have shifted their focus to re-signing Washington, who is a priority in the middle of their 3-4 defense. They could tag him to buy more time to work out a deal, but hope to sign him to a deal with a far less prohibitive cap figure. And again, Washington could sign the Franchise deal and leave New England stuck to actually pay him the $5.613 million this season. If the team were willing to do that, it would probably already have a deal in place with the player.

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