Should Pats Play Tag?
PATRIOTS SHOULD TAG CB TALIB
At the beginning of the offseason, I would have made the case for the Patriots to pass on using the franchise tag.
The team was in good shape from a salary cap standpoint, with roughly $18.6 million available, but committing between $9.8 million-$11.4 million (the range of values for the franchise tag if it were used on Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib or Wes Welker) would have tightened things up to the point that another of the big three free agents might not have been able to be re-signed.
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 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 multiyear extension. He's just 26 years old and his natural skill set is not easy to find around the NFL.
The Patriots have struggled to target cornerbacks in the top rounds of the draft in recent seasons, and Talib is arguably the best available in free agency. Rather than risk losing him, the Patriots should tag him.
Ultimately, I believe the team gave Brady the extension with the intention to also ink Welker to a new deal for multiple seasons. Assuming that gets done, franchising Talib makes even more sense.
NOT WORTH THE HIGH PRICES
The Patriots have used the franchise tag in the past to retain top players, and their three key free agents -- receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Aqib Talib and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer -- are worthy of being considered for it before Monday's deadline. The Patriots are a better team with those players.
I just don't think they need to use the franchise tag to retain them.
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?
There is risk with this approach, because all it takes is one team to step up with a big offer.
But even if that happens, in the worst-case scenario, it's not like there won't be other quality options on the free-agent market.