The 2017 NFL league year hasn’t even officially begun, but teams can begin applying the franchise or transition tag to impending free agents starting Wednesday.
NFL teams have a two-week window to slap the franchise tag on players, so it’s unlikely we see any movement until much closer to the March 1 deadline, but it’s still kind of, sort of exciting that the offseason wheel is slowly starting to spin. The league year officially begins March 9 at 4 p.m., by the way. Yeah, we’re not really sure how players can be franchised before the league year starts either, but whatever.
The franchise tag window opening begs the question, however: Should the Patriots tag any impending unrestricted free agents?
The “exclusive” franchise tag, by the way, locks up a free agent for one season. The transition tag also locks up a player for one season unless another team offers him a contract. The original team has right of first refusal. The “non-exclusive” franchise tag also locks up a player for one season, but another team can offer him a contract with the original team having the right of first refusal. If the original team elects not to match, the team offering the contract must give up two first-round picks to the original team.
With that out of the way, there are really only two logical possibilities on the Patriots’ unrestricted free-agent list in which to apply the franchise or transition tag, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and tight end Martellus Bennett, and Bill Belichick likely would prefer to avoid doling it out to either.
Hightower would be paid upwards of $14,129,000 (the 2016 figure) with the franchise tag, and Bennett would be paid upwards of $9,118,000. The transition tag is considerably more affordable for both linebackers, upwards of $11,925,000, and tight ends, upwards of $7,713,000.
The franchise tag isn’t a terrible option for Hightower, especially since the Patriots have over $60 million in cap space as they enter the 2017 offseason. The Patriots should do everything in their power to bring back Hightower for another season to make another run, and while a long-term contract is ideal, restarting the process of attempting to lock him up after another season under club control isn’t a terrible choice. Hightower doesn’t seem opposed to the idea of the franchise tag, either.
The transition tag could make sense for Bennett. He might not be worth over $9 million in 2017, but he would be worth nearly $8 million as a No. 2 tight end option next to or behind Rob Gronkowski. Bennett also is the kind of player who works best under shorter contracts. The Patriots reportedly don’t intend on getting into a bidding war for Bennett, but they could at least try to lock him up for 2017 with the transition tag.
The Patriots have some very good players entering free agency, so it should be a noteworthy offseason. The Patriots could buy themselves some security by tagging a player before the craziness begins.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images