The New England Patriots did not use the franchise tag, as the league deadline to designate a franchise player was Monday at 4 p.m. EST. This is the first time since 2008 that the Patriots opted not to use the tag.

With 18 Unrestricted Free Agents, as well as two Restricted Free Agents, three players stood out as most likely to receive the tag from the Pats; WR Wes Welker, CB Aqib Talib and OT Sebastian Vollmer.

With none of these players tagged by the team, this means all three high-profile players will all become free agents if they do not reach an agreement with the team on new contracts by the March 12 start of free agency.

Interestingly enough, only eight teams in the NFL used the franchise tag after a record 21 did in 2012.

It will be curious if any Patriots free agents will be re-signed before they hit the open market. Earlier Monday afternoon, however, Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com reported the sides are “getting closer” to a new deal. After QB Tom Brady’s contract restructure and extension last week, I would be surprised if Welker was not re-signed in the next few days.

With the NFL salary cap set at 123.9 million for the upcoming league year, the Patriots have about $24-26 in cap space.

As far as Talib and Vollmer, it will be curious to see what the market will be like for their services. Both are very talented players with inescapable black clouds hovering over their heads; Talib’s off-field issues and Vollmer’s injury concerns will make it tough for any team to commit long-term.

I wrote week’s ago I would not be surprised if the Patriots did or did not use the tag on any of their high-profile players; as all three present challenges for long-term commitment. 

So while the Patriots still may re-sign any of their players, despite passing on the opportunity to use the franchise tag, it will be curious if fans and analysts will be criticizing the move if one — or all — hit the open market next week.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!