New England Patriots

Oct 4, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Oct 4, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

NFL free agency is just eight days away, and Trey Flowers is officially the best pass rusher on the market. Confirming prior reports ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, several big-name defensive linemen are officially getting the franchise tag from their respective teams.

This is great news for Flowers, who could really cash in if he chooses to go to the highest bidder. It’s bad news for the Patriots, who ostensibly hoped to be able to extend him for an average annual value less than the $17 million franchise tag.

Here’s a quick rundown of the big-name pass rushers who are getting tagged:

— The Seahawks are expected to tag DE Frank Clark.
— The Texans announced they are tagging DE Jadeveon Clowney.
— The Chiefs officially announced that they are tagging LB Dee Ford.
— The Falcons announced they have franchised DT Grady Jarrett.
— The Cowboys are reportedly tagging DE DeMarcus Lawrence.

In the case of Ford, the Chiefs are looking to do the NFL version of a sign-and-trade by moving him to a team in need of a 3-4 outside linebacker. Clark and Jarrett, meanwhile, are expected to iron out long-term deals. It’s unclear what the future holds for Clowney and Lawrence, but it appears they will play at least one more season before becoming free agents.

The important part is none of them would be on the open market, while Flowers will. And he’s clearly the best available at his position.

Sep 9, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers reacts after a fumble recovered by the New England Patriots against the Houston Texans in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

For that reason, Flowers should have no shortage of suitors. He’s developed into an excellent, well-rounded defensive end whose new team can feel comfortable deploying him in all situations.

He may not move too far from New England. The Miami Dolphins, who hired ex-Patriots defensive signal-caller Brian Flores as their new head coach, are reported to be the frontrunners to sign Flowers.

Barring a last-minute franchise tag – or a surprise contract extension, which would almost certainly rank among the richest of the Bill Belichick era – Flowers will hit the open market when NFL free agency begins at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13. From there, it’ll be hard for Belichick and the Pats to match the offers he will get elsewhere.

The Patriots appeared to be closely watching defensive linemen at last week’s NFL Combine. With or without Flowers, it appears they could be targeting pass-rush help with their early picks. As of Tuesday they still have Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, and Ufomba Kamalu under contract for 2019 at defensive end.

It’s looking less likely by the day that Flowers will be a part of that depth chart.

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.