Patriots Don’t Use Franchise Tag, Setting Up Wes Welker, Aqib Talib, Sebastian Vollmer for Free Agency

Wes WelkerThe start of NFL free agency is a little over a week away, and the Patriots’ three biggest free agents appear as if they’re headed for the open market.

The Patriots decided against using the franchise tag for the first time in five years on Monday. That leaves Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer all staring down the possibility of free agency.

Welker, 31, was close to this scenario last offseason, but the Patriots slapped the franchise tag on him before he even had the chance to hit the open market. This time around, it seems that the Patriots might be willing to take their chances with their All-Pro wideout and two of the other keys to their AFC Championship run last season.

The Patriots do have close to $25 million in salary cap space to work with this offseason after Tom Brady agreed to a new three-year extension. All indications are that the team does intend to use that money to improve their team for the near future, including retaining Welker, Talib and signing on some other big-name free agents.

It seems that Welker has made progress on a new deal with the Pats in recent weeks, which could back up the decision against tagging him.  As for Talib and Vollmer, it’s really anyone’s guess as to what their futures hold.

The Patriots can continue to negotiate a new deal with each of their free agents, including the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead and Kyle Arrington among others, until the start of free agency at 4 p.m. on March 12. There is no telling what the coming week will have in store, but there will certainly be some intrigue surrounding the Patriots.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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