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Even though there are 12 Patriots scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, only two were ever really serious considerations for the franchise tag. Julian Edelman and Aqib Talib were all the buzz after New England’s season ended in January. Both were key to the Patriots’ success, yet both were still deemed unworthy of the tag.
The decision whether or not to tag a player had to be decided by 4:00 p.m. EST on March 3. After that players were open to hit the market in free agency (although actual contract negotiations can’t begin until March 8).
There are two types of franchise tags, the “non-exclusive franchise tender” and the “exclusive franchise tender.” Both types are a one year fully guaranteed contract. The amount of the contract for the non-exclusive tag is essentially an average of five of the previous franchise tag salaries, at that position, multiplied by the current season’s salary cap (Translation: it’s usually a very large amount of money). The amount for the exclusive tag is the average of the five highest salaries at that position (again: a lot of money for a one year deal). There are some other little technicalities in both but that’s all you really need to know for now.
The key difference between the two tags is simple. The non-exclusive tag allows for other teams to negotiate a contract with the tagged player. However, in order to to do so the negotiating team must give the tagging team two first round picks. The exclusive tag is just that, exclusive. The player is obligated to the tagging team and can negotiate with no one else.
There is also a transition tag, which allows teams to match offers made by other teams, but let’s move on.
New England has used the tag eight times under Belichick. History has shown that the Patriots generally use the tag for one of two reasons. The first is that they expect the player to leave in free agency and want to keep them around for one more season. The second is that they believe they can get a multi-year deal worked out but they need more time.
Two of the past three players that were tagged signed a multi-year extension. Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins chose to stick around, while Wes Welker did not.
Tagging Edelman was ruled out relatively early by most observers. The franchise tag for Edelman would have cost the team roughly $12.3 million. This is a lot of money to pay for a player coming off of a career season. Edelman is good but the Patriots have other options for the slot that could be much more cost effective including Josh Boyce, Danny Amendola, or a free agent.
Once Edelman was essentially ruled out, the debate turned to whether tagging Talib was the right move. Leaked information suggested that Talib and the Patriots were in contract talks. To date nothing has been officially announced and the Patriots have declined to tag Talib, which suggests that the contract negotiations may not have been promising (a conclusion drawn from recent history). Reports as of March 5 have Talib claiming he wants to be paid as a “top-of-the-market” corner. Placing the tag on Talib would have cost the team approximately $11.8 million.
Not tagging Talib may prove beneficial as no other teams tagged some of the top corner talent either. This suggests that the market for these players may not be as demanding as they would like. Talib could still sign with the Patriots, or they could go out and get another big corner in the free agent market.
With the Patriots it’s usually a safe bet that the only people who truly know the plan are Belichick and his inner circle. With free agency negotiations beginning on March 8, it will be interesting to watch New England’s moves in this delicate game of chess.