Today marks the first day teams can apply the franchise tag to a player they don’t want to lose (or lose for nothing). As far as the Patriots are concerned, the player to watch is nose tackle Vince Wilfork. The Pats and Wilfork have until Feb. 25 to hammer out a new contract to avoid using the franchise tag. Applying the tag will guarantee Wilfork $7.003 million, no small sum, but he is seeking a long-term deal. There is no doubt that if they cannot reach an agreement that the franchise tag will be used, which will make Wilfork very unhappy. It does allow the Pats more time to work a deal and avoid losing Big Vince, or gain no less than a first round pick in return. However, a player of his importance in the 3-4 defense cannot be overstated, and losing him will devastate an already depleted defense. Tag or no tag, I don’t think Vince is going anywhere.
In related news, the Patriots have begun talking to their prospective free agents about new contracts and contract extensions. The goal is to get deals hammered out before free agency begins March 5. At the top of the list is CB Leigh Bodden, LB Tully Banta-Cain, and RB Kevin Faulk. The Pats also have 3 restricted free agents: G Logan Mankins, K Stephen Gostkowski, and LB Pierre Woods. Mankins and Gostkowski are the highest priority, with Mankins likely to get the highest tender and Gostkowski likely to get either the 2nd round or 1st round tender. It should also be a priority for the team to get these two players signed to long-term deals to avoid them hitting unrestricted free agency in the future. If Mankins hits the open market, he will likely become too rich for the Pats to keep.
This is probably the most important offseason the Patriots have faced in years. What happens now will likely decide the franchise’s success over the next 5 years. The resigning of key players, including getting Tom Brady a new deal, will go a long way in not only keeping talent in New England, but will also show other talent that the Patriots will take care of their own players, something they haven’t been too good at lately.