The clock is ticking.
By 4 p.m. Eastern on Monday, March 5, NFL teams must submit to the league office their designations for the franchise tag, if they choose to use it this year.
It is almost universally expected that the Patriots will assign their tag to Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker. But should they?
Read the arguments from the Patriots Football Weekly writers, then cast your vote in our Samsonite Make Your Case poll.
Erik Scalavino says, "Tag Welker, then sign him long-term ..."
In the short-term, tagging Welker is the logical course of action. You don't want to risk losing him on the open market when free agency begins on March 13. So, for now, lock him down with the franchise tag.
But don't stop there. Like the team did after tagging Vince Wilfork two years ago, New England should look to resolve Welker's future status right away and work out a long-term deal before the start of the offseason strength and conditioning program in mid-April.
Welker has earned that kind of respect. He's been Tom Brady's most reliable receiver since arriving in 2007, and remains the QB's go-to target when times get tough.
Yes, Welker's in his 30s now and has more football years behind him than ahead, in all likelihood. But he still has a few good years left in him, and those years should be spent in Foxborough, catching passes from the quarterback who made him the star he is today.
Brady wants that, I'm sure. Remember what happened the last time the Patriots allowed Brady's favorite receiver to walk? New England made it to the AFC Championship Game DESPITE the fact that Brady's receiving corps was subpar. Brady was clearly perturbed the whole season, so, the team went out and upgraded the next year, bringing in Welker, Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth, et al.
The Patriots can't afford to go through another season with an unhappy Brady, but they also can't overspend on an aging receiver. Welker deserves his money, though, and should get it in the form of a front-loaded deal in the 3-4-year range. Welker gets his guaranteed money, the Patriots secure his services for at least a few more years, and if they have to release him down the line for whatever reason, he wouldn't be much of a cap hit.
Andy Hart says, "Franchise Welker, then wait ..."
Using the team's franchise tag on Welker is the smart move right now. It makes perfect sense - both in terms of business and on the field.
Welker is clearly a key cog in the Patriots passing attack. His 554 receptions in the last five years are amazing and his rapport with Tom Brady is tremendous.
But Welker is also going to be 31 this summer and with his 554 catches come hundreds of big hits and punishing tackles. Though he was clearly underpaid with the five-year, $18 million deal he just played out, New England can't pay him in the future for what he's done in the past.
I don't fault Welker for wanting a big-money, long-term deal. And I don't fault the Patriots for not wanting to hand a blank check to an aging, undersized receiver who's not a true No. 1 option.
The solution is the franchise tag. Welker gets a big pay raise to around $9.5 million. The Patriots and Brady retain their most frequent target. But they don't have to mortgage the future to celebrate the past.
And, really, I'm not that concerned with Welker holding out if he's unhappy with his $9.5 million. First, I don't think he's that kind of guy. Second, if he sits out games he'd be passing up game checks of more than $500,000 each week. That's a lot of money to give up for a guy looking to maximize his income later in his career.
Tag Welker and allow the NFL's most productive passing connection to continue for at least one more season. It's the right move.
Your turn! Cast your vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll.