At various points since the end of the season, we’ve heard talk about the Patriots using their franchise tag to guarantee the return of one of three key free agents from last year’s team.
The deadline to use the tag has passed, however, and the Patriots did not opt to use it on any of those players. It is the first time since 2008 that the Patriots have opted against using the tag.
That means wide receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Aqib Talib and tackle Sebastian Vollmer will all become free agents if they do not reach agreement with the team on new contracts by the March 12 start of free agency. All three players would have been due big salaries for the 2013 season under the tag, numbers that the Patriots obviously thought didn’t work within the overall framework of the cap.
There was word of “progress” toward a new deal for Welker earlier on Monday, which suggests a fair chance that a deal is struck before other teams are able to steal Welker away with a bigger offer than the Pats are prepared to make. There hasn’t been any equally optimistic word on contracts for Talib and Vollmer.