Sports

NFL teams, including Patriots, can begin franchising players

The NFL offseason officially began Monday, with the window opening for teams to designate a franchise player for the 2013 season.

Last year, a record 21 teams used the franchise tag, including the Patriots, who used theirs on receiver Wes Welker.

Welker is one of three candidates to get the Patriots’ tag this year, along with cornerback Aqib Talib and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

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Since Welker’s tag amount last year was $9.515 million, tagging him again would mean he would get paid at 120 percent of last year’s salary, which is $11.42 million. But Welker is not considered the player likely to be franchised, given that high salary amount; though he has been remarkably durable with the Patriots, he will be 32 in May.

Talib made an impact for New England after being acquired during the season from the Buccaneers, but there are injury concerns with the former first-round pick, as well as concerns about his history of on- and off-field issues. The franchise number for cornerbacks is expected to be around $10.7 million.

Vollmer has a history of back troubles, but when healthy he has been a standout at right tackle and can also play some left tackle. That versatility likely will make him quite appealing to other teams. The Patriots can franchise Vollmer for an estimated $9.66 million (franchise amounts will be finalized next month at the league meetings in Phoenix).

Teams have until March 4 to designate their franchise player.

New England has used the tag eight times, on Welker, Logan Mankins (2011), Vince Wilfork (2010), Matt Cassel (2009), Asante Samuel (2007), Adam Vinatieri (2002, 2005), and Tebucky Jones (2003).

Welker, Samuel, and Vinatieri in 2005 all played out the season in which they were tagged under the one-year, fully-guaranteed contract; Mankins, Wilfork, and Vinatieri in 2002 reached contract extensions with the Patriots before the season began. Cassel and Jones were traded.

Teams can franchise one player per year; if another team offers a franchise designee an offer sheet that his original team does not match, the new team must surrender two first-round picks.

Players can be traded for less, under terms agreed to by the teams involved — Cassel was traded to Kansas City with Mike Vrabel for a second-round pick.

Drawing to a close

With no court on Monday because of Presidents’ Day, closing arguments are expected in Alfonzo Dennard’s trial in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, with the jury getting the case after arguments.

Dennard is facing one charge of felony assault on a police officer and two misdemeanor counts stemming from an incident on April 21, 2012 as bars were letting out for the night.

The cornerback is accused of hitting Lincoln police officer Ben Kopsa as well as another man, Ben Samani, and resisting arrest.

Though Kopsa and another Lincoln police officer allege Dennard hit Kopsa, a state forensic scientist testified that Dennard has his own blood on his hand when tested and Kopsa had his own blood on his neck.

When he testified in his own defense Friday, Dennard admitted to pushing Samani and resisting arrest.

The charges carry maximum penalties of seven years in jail and $12,000 in fines.

Woods in comeback bid

Former Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods was one of a number of players taking part in a regional combine at the Cleveland Browns’ facility Sunday, hoping for another chance in the NFL.

The 10 regional combines are open not only to draft-eligible players but also to older players trying to get their foot in the door for a return to the game.

Now 31 and a father of four, Woods was the oldest participant in the Cleveland session.

Signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent in 2006, Woods played 54 games with New England, with eight starts. The last game he played was the 2010 regular-season finale, as a member of the Bills.

He now works as a laborer with Precision Environmental.

“I cut walls out,” Woods told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “I work four 10-hour shifts and it’s a very physical job, often cutting through cement. I like it though. It’s basically demolition work and it keeps me in shape.”

Woods played at powerhouse Glenville High, not far from the Browns’ facility, before moving on to Michigan. He saw two of his friends and high school teammates, Donte Whitner and Ted Ginn Jr., play in Super Bowl XLVII as members of the 49ers.

Only one actual scout, a member of the Bears’ staff, was at Sunday’s event; the top performers at the regional combines receive invitations to a super combine in Dallas.

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