Bill Belichick and the Patriots were once liberal with their use of the franchise tag on an impending free agent, but have now opted not to use it the past two seasons, as they let the 2014 deadline pass at 4 p.m. Monday.
Realistically, the Patriots had only two options for the franchise tag, and both were ultimately too expensive: cornerback Aqib Talib ($11.8 million) and receiver Julian Edelman ($12.3 million).
The franchise tag is a one-year binding contract that guarantees a salary that is the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position. The Patriots have used the tag eight times since 2002 and four years in a row from 2009-12, with Wes Welker the recipient in 2012.
Talib and Edelman are free to negotiate with the Patriots on long-term contract extensions, but they will hit the open market March 11 when free agency begins. Both played the 2013 season on relatively low salaries — Edelman on a minimum $715,000 deal with incentives, and Talib at $5 million.