The Patriots opted not to use their franchise tag for the 2013 season, letting Monday’s NFL deadline to designate a player pass without making a move.
But New England was not alone. Only eight teams used the tag, a far cry from the record 21 from last season.
This is the first time since 2008 the Patriots did not franchise a player.
The Patriots had three candidates to receive their tag: receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Aqib Talib, and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer. But tagging any of the three would have been cost prohibitive — the financial commitment for a cornerback is $10.854 million, and for an offensive lineman is $9.828 million.
Since Welker was New England’s franchise player for 2012, franchising him again would have cost 120 percent of his salary from last year, which would have amounted to $11.42 million.
The Patriots and Welker’s agents have been working toward a new deal for the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, and it may well be done before free agency officially opens March 12.
They also could be working on deals to lock up Talib and Vollmer prior to free agency, but those players likely will test the waters.
Vollmer will attract attention because of his versatility. When healthy, he can play left or right tackle at a high level. Talib played well for the Patriots, but he struggled with a nagging hip injury that first surfaced when he was still with the Buccaneers.
In all, the Patriots have 16 players slated to become free agents, and one restricted free agent in Michael Hoomanawanui. Teams have until 4 p.m. on March 12 to offer tender sheets to RFAs.
A franchise contract is a one-year, fully-guaranteed pact, with the amount for each representing the average of the top five highest-paid players at each position. The entire amount counts against the salary cap for that season.
New England has used the franchise tag eight times previously, on Welker, Logan Mankins (2011), Vince Wilfork (2010), Matt Cassel (2009), Asante Samuel (2007), Adam Vinatieri (2002, 2005) and Tebucky Jones (2003).
Just as Welker did in 2012, Samuel and Vinatieri (in 2005) played out the season under the franchise designation; Mankins, Wilfork, and Vinatieri (in 2002) all reached contract extensions before the season began.
Cassel and Jones were both tagged and then traded, signing multiyear contracts with their new teams, Kansas City and New Orleans, respectively.