The Patriots used their franchise tag for the 2015 season on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, keeping the Pro Bowler from becoming a free agent next week.
A statement released by the Patriots on the move, which was not attributed to any member of the organization, said, “Stephen has been extremely productive and a vital component to our success since joining our team in 2006. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal.”
Given that, it’s unlikely Gostkowski will be going anywhere for a while.
NFL teams had until 4 p.m. Monday to designate a franchise player; the tag, when signed by the player, is a one-year, fully guaranteed contract that pays him an amount commensurate with the highest-paid players at his respective position.
The 31-year old Gostkowski is coming off his most accurate season in the NFL, as he converted 35 of 37 field goal tries, a 94.6 percent conversion rate that ranks highest in team history, and all 51 extra-point attempts. Gostkowski surpassed his predecessor, Adam Vinatieri, as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer against the Dolphins Dec. 14.
With teams told earlier Monday that the per-team cap amount for 2015 is officially $143.28 million, the franchise amount for kickers and punters is $4.126 million. However, according to the collective bargaining agreement, if a player’s full compensation from the previous season, including salary and bonuses, plus 20 percent, is more than the franchise amount, then he will receive the higher number.
Gostkowski’s 2014 salary was $2.9 million, plus $800,000 from his prorated signing bonus, and a $105,000 workout bonus, giving him a total compensation of $3.805 million. So his 120 percent figure is $4.566 million, and if he plays the coming season under the tag as opposed to signing a long-term deal with the Patriots, that’s the amount he’ll receive.
He signed a five-year, $15 million contract with $5 million guaranteed in 2010.
This is the ninth time New England has used its franchise tag, and the first time since 2012, when it was used on Wes Welker. It is the third time the team has used it on a kicker, with Vinatieri tagged twice.
Since the team used its tag on Gostkowski, that means it’s likely safety Devin McCourty is headed for free agency. McCourty seemed a candidate to be tagged, if only for the Patriots to keep him off the open market and to give the sides time to work out a long-term deal.
The Patriots still have a little over a week to exclusively negotiate with McCourty before free agency starts, but a league source said that as of Monday afternoon, there had been no recent contract talks.
And in reality, the sides may have less time than that. The NFL’s “legal tampering period” begins Saturday at 4 p.m., three days before free agency officially begins; as of that time, outside teams can begin negotiating with free agents, though nothing can be officially signed until March 10 at 4 p.m.
If he hits the open market, McCourty will have no shortage of suitors, as he’s the best safety available. His twin brother Jason, a cornerback for the Titans, tweeted Monday morning that he was waiting for 4 p.m. to come and “putting my recruiting packet together”, hoping that the two might be teammates again.