With the Patriots not assigning the franchise tag today, the question is what happens next with top free agents Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer.
The tag is part of the leverage that a team holds to retain top players. With Welker, Talib and Vollmer avoiding the tag, they can now hit the open market without restrictions if they desire.
The feeling here is that the tag numbers were simply too rich for the Patriots' liking -- Welker at $11.4 million, Talib at $10.8 million and Vollmer at $9.8 million. The team certainly wants to retain all three players -- they are a better team with them -- but it comes down to economics. At what cost?
Furthermore, tagging any of the three would have handcuffed the team's ability to make other moves, which is why today's news isn't a surprise.
The expectation is that negotiations will continue with representatives for all three, and striking an extension before free agency starts March 12 is still a possibility (Welker would seem to be the top candidate in that scenario).
Sometimes a player wants to at least test the market to see what's out there, which is a right they've earned. All it takes is one team to step up with an offer they can't refuse.
From the team side, the Patriots have had success in the past by keeping dialogue open so if the market doesn't bear what the player hopes, the door is still open for a return.
So the main thing today's decision represents is a checkpoint when it comes to leverage in contract talks. The team has passed on the option of using the tag as leverage.