Last year, the Patriots tagged Matt Cassel on the first day it was allowed in an effort to expedite his trade out of town, in time to clear cap space in advance of free agency. In 2007, they waited until there were six days left to the franchise deadline to tag Asante Samuel. In 2008, they declined to tag Randy Moss at all, letting him hit the market with faith the sides were close enough that it would get done, and not wanting to poison the waters.
Tone is important here. We went over this last week, but Dwight Freeney’s case continues to be a good one here … The Colts defensive end was tagged on Feb. 20, 2007, with two days left before the deadline. By then, the sides had been negotiating, and the reason why Freeney had about the friendliest franchise tagging of all-time was because he had complete faith that he and the Colts would get a long-term deal done. And so he waited, and didn’t whine.
“I knew what type of organization we do have,” Freeney said last week. “I
understood. And you know what? They usually do take care of their guys.
I thought about it, and I’d done a lot for this orgnization, so I knew
they’d take care of me. They’d always told me, from Day 1, they’d take
care of me.”
Here’s where it applies to the Patriots: The team wants to sign Wilfork long-term, and if they show it sufficiently, Wilfork’s more likely to look at it like Freeney did. Which is to say, he’ll say, “I understand that they’re protecting themselves, but we’re getting somewhere in the negotiations, so I’m OK with it.”
Now, that’s presuming sides that have been pretty far apart can come closer together, and maybe that’s presuming a lot. But it does allow the two to negotiate, for now, without the potential acrimony that the tag could bring.
Remember, what players get upset about isn’t simply being tagged — It’s the violation of the spirit of the tag. The idea of the rule, in the first place, was to keep valuable players (namely, quarterbacks) from arbitrarily switching teams. But it’s become a way of holding players hostage for a year or two, and delaying their big paydays. It’s important, if this negotiation gets to the point where Wilfork must be tagged, a day that’s still likely to come, he doesn’t feel like that’s what’s happening.