The Patriots have between now and March 5 at 4 p.m. to use the designation, and most believe the candidate most likely to be tagged is wide receiver Wes Welker.
Welker just completed a five-year deal and earned $2.15 million in 2011, a season in which he led the league with 122 catches and was second with 1,569 receiving yards. If Welker is tagged he would be line to receive a one-year tender offer worth approximately $9.6 million.
Welker refused to discuss his contract status throughout the season, insisting that it would be a story for the offseason. But with the league year set to open March 13 and the Combine scheduled to kick off Wednesday in Indy, the offseason is very much upon us.
The wideout has stated repeatedly his desire to remain in New England and with Tom Brady but he also could be seeking a long-term, big-money deal. He'll be 31 at the start of the 2012 season, and with four 100-catch seasons in the last five his body has certainly taken plenty of hits during his Patriots career. With that in mind it would be understandable if the team wished to limit the term and value of the deal.
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (eight years, $120 million) and Houston's Andre Johnson (seven year, $73.5 million) are two of the highest paid receivers in the game. If Welker is looking to enter that stratosphere there's little chance he'd do so in New England. Even something along the lines of the Jets Santonio Holmes' $50 million deal may be too rich for the Patriots blood considering Welker's age.
However, if Welker would be agreeable to something more along the lines of a four-year, $32 million deal with roughly half or so guaranteed, then it's possible something could work out.
In the meantime, the Patriots may want to protect themselves and offer the franchise tag until negotiations can be completed.
What do you think of the Welker situation? Should the Patriots franchise him? Should they agree to give him whatever he wants?