As the Patriots prepare for an offseason likely to feature a jumpstart rebuild, they’re getting the news they needed from the other 31 teams in the league. With a decreased salary cap, teams are spending less money to keep their own players, leaving the Pats with more options, particularly at positions of need.
Specifically, teams have been less inclined to use the always costly franchise tag, which locks players into fully guaranteed one-year contracts. The franchise tag is usually a tool to keep elite off the market, meaning this free agency class will be above average in terms of top end talent.
With the franchise tag deadline set for Tuesday at 4:00 p.m., reports came out throughout the day on which players would and wouldn’t be receiving the tag. Of the seven tags given so far, only two took a potential Patriots target off the board, while a number of other players viewed as fits were confirmed as not receiving the tag.
Chris Godwin was seen as a stretch for New England even if he did hit the open market, which won’t be happening. As first reported by Adam Schefter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers informed the receiver he’d be receiving the tag on Tuesday afternoon. Allen Robinson, who was projected to be the highest-paid receiver available, is also getting tagged and staying in Chicago, according to Schefter.
Even without Godwin, there will be no shortage of top tier pass catching talent available to the Patriots. According to reports, tight end Hunter Henry and wide receiver Kenny Golladay won’t be tagged by their respective teams, and are expected to become unrestricted free agents.
Henry is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career, after being tagged by the Chargers last season. The 26-year-old caught 60 passes for 613 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games for LA last year. A true do-it-all tight end who would be the ideal fix to the Patriots’ recent woes at the position, he’s expected to get $11-$13 million per year.
Golladay is also entering free agency for the first time, coming off of his rookie contract. Injuries limited him to just five games last year, but in 16 games in 2019 he recorded 65 catches for 1,190 yards and a league-leading 11 touchdowns. At 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, Golladay could be the big body down field threat the Patriots had hoped to add when they drafted N’Keal Harry in 2019. The 27-year-old won’t come cheap, he project to earn $15-$18 million a year on his next contract.
There’s some serious talent that’s now confirmed to be available on the defensive side of the ball as well. According to Schefter, the Steelers won’t be franchising linebacker Bud Dupree, after doing so last season.
If the Patriots want to get aggressive in finding a linebacker to play next to – and possibly eventually replace – Dont’a Hightower, it would be hard to do better than Dupree. The 28-year-old is effective against the run and the pass. Dupree had a breakout season in 2019 with 11.5 sacks, 16 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and three pass breakups. He had eight sacks in 11 games in 2020 before a torn ACL ended his season after 11 games. Given the injury, this could be a chance for the Patriots to buy low on an extremely talented player. Even at a discount, he’ likely get $14-$17 million per year on his new deal.
The Patriots made some franchise tag news themselves on Tuesday as well, with Schefter reporting the team is unlikely to use the tag on guard Joe Thuney, their most likely candidate. Thuney was tagged last season.
MORE: Pass catching targets for the Patriots in free agency
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Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.