While the thrill of winning Super Bowl XLIX has yet to wear off, the Patriots must already confront the realities of the league calendar. On Monday, the two-week window for NFL teams to designate a franchise player for the 2015 season opened.
Also on Monday, members of the New England staff began arriving in Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine, though according to a league source, Bill Belichick told his assistant coaches that they didn’t have to attend the combine and could have the time off since their season went so long.
The Patriots did not use their franchise tag in 2013 or ’14, but it seems likely they will use it this year, as two of their top players are coming up on free agency and can be franchised for a relatively low amount.
Safety Devin McCourty, a first-round draft pick in 2010 who has now played out his five-year rookie contract, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, now a nine-year veteran who is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, are the top candidates to be tagged.
In either case, New England may use the tag as a means to ensure that the player won’t hit the open market, and buy itself more time to work out a long-term contract with him.
The franchise tag amount for safeties is estimated to be around $9.6 million, according to NFL Network. The tag numbers have not been finalized because they are based on a percentage of the salary cap, and the 2015 cap has not been set.
The safety number is the third-lowest across all positions, while the number for kickers and punters is the lowest, currently estimated at $4.12 million.
However, under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, Gostkowski would receive more than that if he is franchised. In the CBA, it states that if 120 percent of a player’s total compensation, including salary and bonuses, from the previous season is above the franchise amount for his position, he receives that higher amount.
Gostkowski’s salary cap amount for 2014 was $3.805 million, including his base salary of $2.9 million, $800,000 from his prorated signing bonus, and a $105,000 workout bonus.
Since 120 percent of $3.805 million is $4.44 million, that is the amount Gostkowski would receive were he to play the 2015 season under the tag.
The last time the Patriots used the tag was in 2012, on Wes Welker; they used it the previous two years on Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork, with both agreeing to long-term contracts before the July deadline.
New England has used the tag five other times: in 2009, on Matt Cassel, who was then traded to Kansas City; in 2007, on Asante Samuel, who signed after getting the Patriots to agree not to franchise him again; in 2005, on Adam Vinatieri, who left the team after the season; in 2003, on Tebucky Jones, who was then traded to New Orleans; and in 2002 on Vinatieri, who went on to sign a multiyear deal with the Patriots.