The window for NFL teams to use the franchise tag will close Monday at 4 p.m. ET. And with the New England Patriots featuring two prominent candidates for it in free safety Devin McCourty and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the final hours will be monitored closely.
McCourty, who earned $4.92 million in base salary during his fifth season in New England’s secondary, would receive approximately $9.6 million guaranteed for 2015 if tagged by the deadline, according to Albert Breer of NFL Media. And Gostkowski, who earned $2.9 million in base salary during his ninth season on New England’s special teams, would receive $4.12 million.
The league is trending away from those likelihoods, however, a year after only four players were franchised with the non-exclusive tag by their organizations.
The tag itself, worth the average of the five highest positional cap numbers over the last five seasons, or 120 percent of the player’s previous base salary, has become a player-friendly arrangement. But it isn’t the long-term deal many set out for after finishing their prior ones.
Wideouts Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos and Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys, as well as 3-4 outside linebacker Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs are a few of the names reportedly zeroing in on it thus far. Whether or not one of the Patriots’ names joins them will soon be decided.
McCourty’s contract situation has quietly flown under the radar with six-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis’ waiting in the wings. But the 27-year-old converted corner has been a Pro Bowler, a two-time All-Pro and a team captain in his own right. The 2010 first-round pick out of Rutgers concluded the 2014 season graded out as Pro Football Focus‘ eight-ranked safety after 1,018 snaps, 68 tackles, two interceptions, six pass deflections and a forced fumble.
All the while, the 31-year-old Gostkowski ended the 2014 campaign as a three-time Pro Bowler, a second-team All-Pro and the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer. Going 35-of-37 on field goals for a franchise-record 94.6 percent, the 2006 fourth-rounder via Memphis also went 51-of-51 on extra points and accrued 53 touchbacks.
But more will be taken into account on March 2 and beyond it.
Under head coach Bill Belichick, eight players have been tagged since 2002. Kicker Adam Vinatieri was twice, and safety Tebucky Jones, cornerback Asante Samuel, quarterback Matt Cassel, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, guard Logan Mankins and receiver Wes Welker all were once.
Yet the transaction is not something New England’s personnel department has turned to since 2012. And of the eight players who found themselves branded by it, three ultimately signed extensions, two were ultimately traded, and an additional three – including Vinatieri after his second tag – ultimately left via free agency afterwards.
That history suggests no tag is quite like the next one. Yet with unrestricted waters awaiting New England and its 10 scheduled free agents, the tag would buy time beyond the start of the new league year on March 10.
Should the department turn to it again Monday, and the player turned to signs his tender, the two sides would have until July 15 to agree to a long-term deal. Though if one does not come to fruition, that player must play the upcoming season under the one-year deal previously in place.
Time will tell if there will be something in place for either McCourty or Gostkowski.