New England Patriots

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA: New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA: New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Trey Flowers is one out of a group of several talented edge defenders on track to hit free agency. For now. The franchise tag looms, and it could give the Patriots an uphill battle to keep Flowers in the fold.

The window is officially open for NFL teams to hit players with the franchise tag, and it sounds like the Patriots will use it on kicker Stephen Gostkowski instead of Flowers. The number for defensive ends this season, which hasn’t been announced yet, could be north of $18 million after it was $17.143 million last year.

It’s unlikely the Pats would lock in Flowers at such a price, but it could be well worth it for other teams to do the same for their own high-end pass rushers. Reports suggest that many of the top names at the position will end up off the market due to the tag – which could leave Flowers at the top of the heap as a free agent.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter named the following edge rushers as likely tags this offseason: the Seahawks’ Frank Clark, the Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney, the Chiefs’ Dee Ford, and the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence. At least three of them are trending in that direction.

— Clark’s agent said back in October that his client would be OK with a franchise tag in Seattle.

— The Texans could franchise Clowney for significantly less than what he may cost in an extension. Clowney has acknowledged that “I want to be up there” with the likes of Khalil Mack, whose extension with the Bears carries an AAV of $23.5 million.

— Kansas City may be able to franchise Ford as a linebacker, which would cost a little bit less.

— Lawrence gladly signed his franchise tender with the Cowboys a year ago, but reportedly won’t sign a second one. So if he is tagged, it could lead to a lengthy holdout like the Steelers got with Le’Veon Bell and no free agency for Lawrence either way.

Take all four of these players off the market, and suddenly Flowers is the best pass-rusher available. He wouldn’t command Mack money, but he could price himself out of the Patriots if he gets an offer like Olivier Vernon with the Giants: five years, $85 million, $52.5 million guaranteed.

Former NFL agent Joel Corry, now a writer & analyst with CBS Sports, says on Phil Perry’s “Next Pats” podcast that Flowers would set the market after all of the aforementioned players get tagged. He also sees prime competition in a pair of ex-Patriots coaches, Matt Patricia with the Lions and Brian Flores with the Dolphins.

“[Flowers] should be the ‘belle of the ball’, as it comes to young pass rushers,” said Corry. “I expect Dee Ford, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, and DeMarcus Lawrence to be franchised. Actually, [Flowers] didn’t have the sack numbers that those guys did. But I don’t really look at sacks as indicative of pass-rush ability. He had 64 quarterback pressures during the regular season. That was tied with Frank Clark, and one more than Lawrence had and five more than Clowney had.

“So if all these guys get franchised … you’ve got two coaches who know him. Sometimes familiarity breeds comfort in free agency. You’ve got Matt Patricia and Brian Flores, both need a pass-rusher.”

If Flowers only wants to re-sign with the Patriots, he may have to take the proverbial Hometown Discount™. A deal in the range of Danielle Hunter with the Vikings – five years, $72 million, $40 million guaranteed – would be relatively team-friendly at this point.

If Flowers ends up the best edge defender available – and finds two suitors led by former coaches of his – it’ll be that much harder for the Patriots to keep him.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.