The Patriots declined to use their franchise tag by Tuesday’s deadline.
The team’s three most likely candidates — defensive end Trey Flowers, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and left tackle Trent Brown — will become unrestricted free agents if they can’t reach agreements with the Patriots by March 13.
It would have cost New England $17.1 million to tag Flowers, $5.9 million to tag Gostkowski, and $14.06 million to tag Brown.
The Patriots haven’t slapped the franchise tag on anyone since 2015, when they used it on Gostkowski. The kicker eventually signed a four-year, $17.2 million deal which, at the time, made him the highest-paid kicker in the league.
League-wide, five defensive players, all premier pass rushers, and 49ers placekicker Robbie Gould, were given franchise tags by their teams.
Ends DeMarcus Lawrence of Dallas and Frank Clark of Seattle, linebackers Dee Ford of Kansas City and Jadeveon Clowney of Houston, and DT Grady Jarrett of Atlanta received non-exclusive tags. So did Gould.
That means the players can negotiate with other teams, which would be required to give up two first-round draft choices as compensation for signing the tagged player — something that rarely occurs.