With Monday's deadline for teams to franchise players looming Monday, we asked our Mike Reiss and Field Yates to debate what the Patriots should do in this week's ESPNBoston.com Hot Button. They have three key free agents in Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer, but should they use the franchise tag to ensure one of them is back for 2013?
Here are the arguments:
* Reiss -- Don't use the tag: The main issue from a team-based perspective is the price of the tag: $11.4 million for Welker, $10.8 million for Talib and $9.8 million for Vollmer. Those numbers are too restrictive, and would have a negative trickle-down effect on the Patriots' ability to add other free agents because that's a big salary cap charge to absorb.
Ideally, the sides could hammer out a contract extension with all three players before free agency, which would benefit both sides -- the player gets the money, the team gets more salary-cap flexibility.
But even if that doesn't happen, it doesn't mean the door has to be closed on negotiations. Because so many teams are scrambling to get under the salary cap, some believe there won't be as many big spenders in free agency this offseason. The projection is that it could lead to a depressed free-agent market with prices being driven down.
If the Patriots believe that, as I think they do, why pay a franchise-tag premium for a player when you might not have to?
* Yates -- Tag Talib: With newly cleared cap space from Tom Brady's extension and the news that Alfonzo Dennard could be facing jail time, the team should use the franchise tag on cornerback Aqib Talib.
The one-year $10.8 million deal would be a lot for a player who has been with the Patriots for just a half of a season, but that was long enough for him to prove himself to be a difference maker.
We don't know for sure what Dennard's sentencing will hold (that will be settled on April 11), but if the starting cornerback faces jail time, the Patriots will become even thinner at a position they already needed to address.
Tagging Talib gives the team an assurance it will have a top cover corner to work with in 2013 and also leaves open the possibility of signing him to a multi-year extension.
Your turn: What do you think the Patriots should do? Vote in the poll above and share your thoughts in the comments section.