New England had until today's 4 PM deadline to use the tag on the NFL's most productive receiver over the last five seasons. The tag comes with a one-year contract that's expected to be around $9.4 million, although the exact figure will be released when the 2012 salary cap becomes official later this month.
It is not yet known if the Patriots used the "exclusive" franchise tag, as the Saints did with Drew Brees, although that would seem somewhat unlikely. The exclusive tag means that no other team can negotiate with the player and comes with higher tender that is evaluated as cap numbers develop during free agency. The regular franchise tag allows players to negotiate with other teams, and the team using the tag would get two first-round picks as compensation if it chose not to match a contract and that player were to go to another team.
In the past the Patriots have issued a press release when using the franchise tag, and that release generally includes a statement from the team. Look for that release in the coming hours as the story develops.
UPDATE ... 3:37 p.m.
The team has indeed designated Welker its franchise player for 2012. In its official proclamation just moments ago, the organization issued the following statement:
"Wes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal. Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come."