This year's window for NFL teams to assign their franchise tags begins on February 18 and ends two weeks later on March 4.
With 18 players scheduled to hit free agency when the new league year begins March 12, the Patriots have three players in particular who are the most likely candidates to receive the tag: wide receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Aqib Talib, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Of course, the team could also elect to tag someone else, or no one at all.
But what should the Patriots do with their 2013 franchise tag?
Read the arguments from the Patriots Football Weekly writers, then cast your vote in our Samsonite Make Your Case poll.
Erik Scalavino says
Of the three consensus players, Welker is the most valuable to the organization. He's proven that year after year for the past six seasons. Despite suffering injuries and taking some monstrous hits, he always bounces back up and rarely misses a play, let alone a game.
The same can't be said for the other two. Vollmer and Talib have had injury concerns that limited their availability this past season, and in Vollmer's case, his health has always been a cause for concern.
Talib was a nice addition to the team in 2012, but he can hardly be called a game-changer. Tagging him would mean investing many millions of dollars ($10.6 million for cornerbacks this year) in a player who, while solid, is hardly worth that amount. But being at the top of a relatively weak cornerback free agent class, he'll likely get that money from some team desperate for a corner. I just don't see the Patriots being that team.
Vollmer is just too risky, too, to invest so large a sum in, either ($9.6 million), even for just a year, in my estimation. Welker is as safe a bet as you'll find in the NFL these days. He's earned his keep, he's played the good soldier, he deserves to be back here for at least one more season. In fact, it would be nice if the team and Welker could come to terms on a long-term contract before this gets too far down the road. I could see a scenario in which the tag is applied to Welker, but just to buy time for a negotiation on a three-to-four-year contract (with an option for the team to duck out earlier).
That, to me, makes the most sense for this year's franchise tag.
Andy Hart says
Part of the beauty of the franchise tag is that it allows you to keep a worthy talent without a long-term, big-money commitment. That's the perfect scenario for Talib. He was only in New England for a short time and was injured for part of that. So the team didn't really get that long to get to know him – on or off the field. By using the tag on him, you keep him around for another year to see how he fits into the program – again, on and off the field. The $10.6 million it would cost is a lot of money, but is about the going yearly rate for a No. 1 corner on the open market and probably about half the team would have to pay a guy like Talib in guaranteed money alone if it were looking to do a long-term deal with the defensive back. Talib has questions off the field that make him a risk. He was given a lot of credit for solidifying the secondary despite his limited playing time and other factors that contributed to some late season improvement in pass defense. The best way to buy another year with a good but far from perfect corner is by using the franchise tag. No. 1 corners are hard to find, the Patriots should use to the tag to see if Talib is really worth keeping over the long haul because if he gets to the open market, as arguably the top corner on the market, he's likely going to warrant a deal totaling $40-50 million with half that guaranteed. That's too much of a commitment right now. By comparison Welker's age and unique value to New England make his value less on the open market and a long term deal with him is probably less costly and easier to envision for the Patriots at this point. And I'd let the Vollmer and his injury history walk out the door and become someone else's free agent mistake.
So, sign Welker, tag Talib and let Vollmer test the market. Sounds like the perfect plan to me!
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question