The NFL off-season is well underway and over the next two months, there will be a lot of moving parts around the league. Contract decisions, franchise tags, draft and free agency will continue to keep league personnel busy for the next few months. The New England Patriots are in the mix as well dealing with 18 of their own unrestricted free agents and have several tough decisions to make in the near future.


Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib’s history makes it hard for the team to sign him to a long-term deal. (FILE:USPresswire)

Of their own free agents, the Patriots have three who are the most “high profile” and could be candidates to receive the franchise tag: Wide receiver Wes Welker, Cornerback Aqib Talib and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

Here are their franchise tag numbers:

Welker — $11.4 million

Talib — $10.668

Vollmer — $9.66 million

NFL teams have until March 4 to apply the franchise tag to a player if they choose to do so.

In order to spark a debate in the PatsFans community, answer the following question. Between the three — Welker, Talib and Vollmer — which one would you sign to a (realistic) long-term deal, apply the franchise tag and let go in free agency?

Yes, I do believe all or none of these three could be back with the team, but let’s see what your thoughts are on this question. For starters, here is my answer.

Sign: Wes Welker

Welker is one of the most underrated players in the league, but his value on this team is much higher than it would be on many other teams in the NFL. There is a definite chance a team could overpay him if he hits free agency, but I am not sold he wouldn’t take a slight discount to stay with Tom Brady in New England as long as the team offers him a reasonable deal.

His age and the types of hits he takes are a concern, but this is a move that has to be done in my opinion. Welker means too much to this team in terms of production, consistency and if he signs elsewhere, I would very much question how the team would replace him.  I believe both sides want to get a deal done, it just comes down to smart business for both sides.

Tag: Aqib Talib

I could envision a scenario where the Pats franchise tag Welker in order to buy them some time to privately work out a long-term contract and let Talib test the open market. For this question, however, I would apply the tag to the fifth-year corner back.

Even though his play might have been slightly overrated, there is no doubt Talib made a difference when he was on the field this season.  His presence on the field transformed New England’s defense into a different unit. It helped sure up the secondary and seemed to give the coaching staff more confidence in aggressive playcalling.

With his tumultuous past and colorful off-the-field history to this point in his career, the team cannot commit long-term to him at this time. Even when he was acquired, he had to finish serving a suspension and also had injury issues.

By applying the franchise tag to Talib, he receives number one cornerback money — that he very well could get on the open market in a weak defensive back free agency pool — but the team has insurance long-term. He was competitive, improved the defense and seemed to buy into the “Patriots way”.

This team has spent eight years trying to fill the void of Asante Samuel, a one-year risk could have a big time reward this season.

Let go: Sebastian Vollmer

This is tough. At times in his career, Vollmer has been one of the best tackles in football.  There are two reasons I would not sign him to a long term deal though. For one, I believe there is a team that will offer him a significantly larger contract in free agency. For two, his injury history is too much of a risk to commit long-term.

The 6’8, 320 pound offensive lineman has had a back injury since being drafted in 2009 and had constant nagging injuries in his time with the Patriots. There is a chance New England signs him to a deal which protects the team or has incentives for playing time, but Vollmer will likely get a better contract offer from another franchise.

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has shown the ability to groom players and develop quality lineman, so I would not be surprised to see the team go in that direction or even a cheaper free agent option. Although, it’s not easy replacing a talent like Vollmer.

Your Turn: 

Overall, I could see any combination being a legitimate possibility for the Patriots this off-season. There are several questions and concerns with all three players, even though they are all very talented.

Now it’s your turn. Which player would you sign long-term, apply the franchise tag and let go. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!