With the window now open for teams to apply the franchise tag to pending free agents, we've explored that possibility for the Patriots.
The team's plans for the tag remain unknown for now, but one other consideration is the use of the transition tag, another salary cap provision that aids teams in retaining top players.
The transition tag can be used on one free agent per team, and it entitles that free agent to a one-year guaranteed salary that places him among the top player at his position (the rough estimate for a franchise tag is a top-5 salary, which the transition tag is roughly a top-10 salary). However, if a player is assigned the transition tag, another team can sign him to a contract offer, which his current team would have seven days to match. If a transition tag player is signed to an offer sheet and his team does not match the offer, no compensation is received.
The same trio of players who seem like the viable options for the franchise tag -- receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Aqib Talib, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer -- could be in the mix for the transition tag.
The price paid to each would be as follows (per NFL.com's tentative values): Welker, $11.4 million; Talib, $8.939 million; Vollmer, $8.56 million.
Because Welker was franchise tagged last season, he is entitled to a contract worth 120 percent of his 2012 salary under the transition tag. The franchise tag values for Talib and Vollmer would be $10.668 million and $9.66 million, respectively.
There's risk-reward involved with the transition tag for the team, as while it lowers the amount of money it would have to commit to a player on a one-year deal, that free agent could still sign elsewhere on a deal too rich for the team to match. If the team feels the player has enough value on a one-year deal at the transition tag price but is only willing to go to a certain number of years and salary on a long-term pact, it could use the transition tag, allowing the player to test the market and the team to survey whether or not a potential long-term deal is worth matching.
It's no guarantee that the Patriots will use the franchise or transition tag this offseason, but it's one other consideration to take into account while the window is still open.