The Patriots have never been shy about using the franchise tag for whatever leverage it could provide them; whether it was more time to work out a long-term deal, a tag and trade, or just to squeeze one more year out of a star before he bolted town for a monster payday.
Just four times in the past decade have the Patriots not used the franchise tag for one purpose or another, but 2013 provides an interesting landscape.
The value of the 2013 franchise tag is significantly worse than it was in 2012, and would have to make the Patriots a little less likely to use it.
There are only three viable candidates for the Patriots to possibly tag.
Tagging Welker again would take up 61 percent of the free cap space, likely too rich for the Patriots for a second year in a row. If they do tag Welker it will be one of the first times the Patriots have truly gone "all-in" for a season.
Talib was good when he was healthy for New England. However, he missed multiple games, including most of the AFC Championship. Given his off-the-field history, it's unlikely Belichick would spend that much on a still-unproven and potentially volatile player.
So perhaps Sebastian Vollmer is the best option since his tag number would be the lowest and he's the safest long-term bet of the threesome.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com agrees:
I don't see it happening, but maybe tagging Sebastian Vollmer ends up making some sense for Bill Belichick. He has some freakish talent and is the only hanging chad, if you will, on this offensive line. The Patriots could make it happen under their cap if need be, knowing they have all summer to get a long-term deal done and eventually open up more cap space.
Vollmer brings a lot of value, because he can not only be a dominant right tackle, but also play left tackle nearly as well. He'll be just 29 at the start of the 2013 season, and should have at least four more years of prime play. He's worth a contract extension, and an asset that should be projected in a league starved for "freakish" tackles.
For a team that was originally built on value, the only real "value" use of the franchise tag would be on Vollmer, and even then it's no slam dunk given his injury history and that the overall salary cap has basically stayed the same.
Or perhaps it would be best to tag no one and use of that $10 million of space on remaking the receiver and cornerback positions with a collection of mid-to-high-range veteran free agents.
That just might be their best bang for their buck.