According to NFL.com, the Patriots utilized their franchise tag before the deadline this afternoon by placing it on kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
The decision means that safety Devin McCourty, who many believed would be in line for the franchise tag, will become a free agent at the start of the new league year March 10 unless the sides work out a deal for a new contract before then.
Gostkowski would earn roughly $4.5 million under the franchise tag but he and the team can continue working toward a new deal until July 15. By using the tag the Patriots protect themselves from losing their Pro Bowl kicker without having the opportunity to match any offer he receives, or they could receive two first-round picks as compensation – a steep and unrealistic price for a team to pay for a kicker.
The fact that Gostkowski received the tag and not McCourty comes as a mild surprise, and with the free agent crop at safety not considered deep there's a chance the veteran could receive a lucrative offer elsewhere.
Speaking at an NFL Play60 event last week, McCourty said: "I've thought about all different scenarios, whether I'm here or whether I'm somewhere else. At this point, I don't have a contract, so it could happen that I could be playing somewhere else. It would be crazy not to think that could [happen]."
This marks the third time the Patriots have used the franchise tag on a kicker. Adam Vinatieri was tagged the previous two times, once in 2002 and again in 2005.