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Patriots can officially begin their game of tag Monday with Wes Welker

02.20.12 at 11:21 am ET
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Let the tagging begin.

The window to hit potential free agents with the franchise tag opens Monday and runs through March 5. While enjoying exclusive negotiating rights until free agency opens on March 13, each team has the option to choose one player with an expiring contract who will receive a one-year deal in lieu of a long-term deal or becoming a free agent.

However, under the new collective bargaining agreement, which was signed last offseason, the franchise tag rules have changed slightly. Now, a tagged player will no longer receive the average of the five highest-paid players at his position. Instead, the salary for each tagged player will be determined by a formula that factors franchise tags for the previous five years.

According to NFL.com, the numbers are down across the board. Here’€™s the position-by-position difference:

‘€¢Quarterback: $14.4 million in 2012; down from $16.1 million in 2011
‘€¢Running back: $7.7 million in 2012; down from $9.6 million in 2011
‘€¢Wide receiver: $9.4 million in 2012; down from 11.4 million in 2011
‘€¢Tight end: $5.4 million in 2012; down from $7.3 million in 2011
‘€¢Offensive lineman: $9.4 million in 2012; down from $10.1 million in 2011
‘€¢Defensive end: $10.6 million in 2012; down from $13 million in 2011
‘€¢Defensive tackle: $7.9 million in 2012; down from $12.5 million in 2011
‘€¢Linebacker: $8.8 million in 2012; down from $10.1 million in 2011
‘€¢Cornerback: $10.6 million in 2012; down from $13.5 million in 2011
‘€¢Safety: $6.2 million in 2012; down from $8.8 million in 2011

In New England, the Patriots have several key free agent decisions, including running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, wide receiver Deion Branch, offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen and defensive ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson. However, the likeliest candidate for the franchise tag is wide receiver Wes Welker, who just completed a five-year deal he signed just prior to the 2077 season. Welker, who finished with 122 catches for 1,569 yards this year, maintained over the course of the 2011 season that he wanted to return to the Patriots.

‘€œWell, of course I want to stay here,’€ Welker said when asked about his future during the season. ‘€œBut as of right now, I don’€™t really think about it. I just try to focus on this year and everything I can do to help the team this year.’€

‘€œWell, I think Wes wants to be here, and we want him here,’€ said Patriots owner Robert Kraft in January. ‘€œHe’€™s pretty special. Anytime there’€™s a player on this team I can look eye to eye and be at the same level, he’€™s an important guy.’€

The Patriots used the tag on defensive lineman Vince Wilfork in 2010 while they were negotiating a long-term deal with the All-Pro. They eventually reached an agreement on a long-term deal, and rolled that money forward into a new contract.

History would certainly seem to favor the receiver staying in New England. In 2009, Welker changed representation, leaving Vann McElroy and aligning himself with David Dunn of Athletes First. Known primarily as an agency that reps bigger name quarterbacks ‘€” Dunn hammered out a $103 million agreement between the Patriots and Drew Bledsoe back in 2000 ‘€” Dunn and Athletes First have represented Patriots like Aaron Hernandez and Zoltan Mesko, and historically have had a good working relationship with New England.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Andre Carter, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Dan Connolly

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Boise State DL/LB Shea McClellin

02.20.12 at 8:46 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

SHEA McCLELLIN

Position: DE/LB

School: Boise State

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 255 pounds

Achievements: Athlon Sports Preseason All-America second team (2011), first-team All-Western Athletic Conference (2010)

What he brings: McClellin’s solid frame and extensive upper-body strength maximizes his length into contact. He has an explosive first step off the ball both with his hand on the ground and standing up. His strong lower body helps him accelerate through contact as well. He is a clever player and works perpetually toward the quarterback. The patience he demonstrates when taking on blocks is paired with his strong hands, allowing him to enter clean into contact. Redirecting and closing on the football is not an issue for McClellin, as he demonstrates great balance and fluidity. His versatility is a plus, as he can shift from the defensive line to linebacker.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 2-3

Notes: McClellin had 50 tackles and three sacks in 2011, giving him career totals of 130 tackles and 20.5 sacks. In 2009 he became the first Bronco to score on an interception return and a fumble return in the same season since 1999. He missed the final three games of the 2008 season due to a leg injury.

Recent articles:

McClellin impresses scouts at Senior Bowl

McClellin: Bronco to a ‘monster’?

Video: Here’s a highlight reel of McClellin.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Shea McClellin,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Alabama S Mark Barron

02.19.12 at 3:32 pm ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

MARK BARRON

Position: Safety

School: Alabama

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 218 pounds

Achievements: Unanimous first-team All-American (2011), Jim Thorpe Award finalist (2011), Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalist (2011), first-team All-SEC (2011, 2010, 2009), All-SEC Freshman Team (2008),

What he brings: Barron is the near-consensus pick as the top safety in the draft and boasts an impressive award resume to go along with hours of game tape of him and his Alabama teammates putting on a defensive clinic throughout the 2011 season.

More importantly, though, Barron is a classic ball-hawking, center field-type safety who would play alongside Patrick Chung. Barron lacks elite straight-line speed but has great size and has earned a reputation as a big hitter who can blitz and play up in the box as well as drop back in zone coverage and has great ball skills.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1

Notes: Injuries remain a big issue for Barron, who many consider the top safety in the class, as he will be out of commission for up to two months while recovering from double hernia surgery. After missing the Senior Bowl, Barron will miss the scouting combine next week and likely will skip Alabama’€™s pro day on March 7.

If he passes the rigorous injury pre-draft injury inspection during his workouts, Barron could be off the board by the middle of Round 1. However, Barron’€™s stock could easily fall due to pre-draft inaction, opening the door for the Patriots to take a risk on an injury-prone defensive back, much like Ras-I Dowling in the 2011 draft.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is a good friend of Bill Belichick, who is known to trust his friends among the college ranks when drafting. So if Saban gives Belichick a positive report, the Patriots could jump on Barron if he falls to them.

Recent articles:

Viking Update: Safety becomes drafts first ‘€˜faller’€™

Sporting News: Hernia surgery knocks Alabama’€™s Mark Barron out of scouting combine

Video: Here’€™s a good sampling of Barron’s skills from games against Florida, Penn State and Tennessee.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Alabama, mark barron

Free Agent Snapshot: Cortland Finnegan

02.19.12 at 1:55 pm ET
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We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of cornerback Cortland Finnegan. With the understanding that the NFL’€™s franchise tag window is from February 20 to March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Cortland Finnegan
Position: Cornerback
Age: 28
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 188 pounds

Now this would be an interesting pickup. Finnegan is a feisty sort who is never been one to back down from a physical confrontation (just ask Andre Johnson), a strong, man-to-man corner who could bring a jolt to the New England secondary. Finnegan has played in the slot and on the outside, and brings the sort of physical, versatile presence the Patriots need at defensive back.

Pro Football Focus had Finnegan as Tennessee’€™s most complete defender, with an overall grade of +15.8 (third among all cornerbacks), with a +9.6 grade in overall pass coverage. (By way of comparison, PFF had Sterling Moore rated as New England’€™s best defensive back, with an overall grade of +5.5, and +4.4 in pass coverage.) PFF also says that when quarterbacks threw at Finnegan, they were 52-for-82 for 456 yards and two touchdowns — not Revisesque numbers, but certainly better than any New England defensive back over the lat season.

It appears unlikely that the Titans will not try and make a move to retain Finnegan — as of last week, Tennessee hasn’€™t made any movement in talks with the defensive back, and would not franchise him. When it comes to him landing in New England, he would come with some baggage — he was named one of the dirtiest players in the league in 2010 — but it wouldn’€™t be the first time the Patriots took a chance on someone with a past.

Why it might not work: As was the case with Brent Grimes, the biggest roadblock might be money. Finnegan and Grimes are two of the best unrestricted free agent corners on the market, and will likely be compensated justly. In addition, this story figures Finnegan might be a good fit in Detroit with former Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and also lists St. Louis, Dallas, Oakland, San Francisco, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville as possible landing spots for the cornerback, while saying that Finnegan would command a contract similar to the five-year, $48.75-million deal Johnathan Joseph signed last offseason with Houston.

Read More: Andre Johnson, Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, free agent snapshot

Free Agent Snapshot: Brent Grimes

02.18.12 at 12:33 am ET
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We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of cornerback Brent Grimes. With the understanding that the NFL’€™s franchise tag window is from February 20 to March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Brent Grimes
Position: Cornerback
Age: 28
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 183 pounds

The Patriots have some shifting parts in their secondary, but the addition of someone like Grimes could be an intriguing fit with the New England secondary. Grimes is coming off a great year with the Falcons, but Atlanta has some hard decisions to make when it comes to free agents and its defense — Atlanta’€™s defensive statistical leaders who could be free agents are linebacker Curtis Lofton (tackles) (tackles), defensive end John Abraham (sacks), safety Thomas DeCoud (interceptions) and Grimes (passes defensed). With so many franchise tag possibilities, that increases the chances that Grimes will be available when free agency begins on March 13.

If Grimes does avoid the franchise tag, the Patriots could find themselves with a shot at the Shippensburg product, who has quietly become one of the better corners in the league over the last two years. An undrafted free agent, since the start of the 2010 season, Grimes has broken up 28 passes and intercepted six more in that time frame. Using Grimes at corner, along with Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty (with McCourty continues to play some free safety on third-down and other passing situations) would likely bring an end to the days of utilizing Julian Edelman as a defensive back.

Some critics whisper about Grimes’€™ character. At the same time, it’€™s important to remember that over the last four seasons, Grimes has played in Atlanta, a franchise run by Thomas Dimitroff. Dimitroff made his bones in the New England front office (from 2002 until 2007), and has tried to build the Falcons in the image of the Bill Belichick-run Patriots. With that in mind, it seems unlikely that Dimitroff would tolerate Grimes if he were a clubhouse malcontent.

Why it might not work: Money. Grimes is one of (if not) the best unrestricted free agent corners on the market, and will likely command a hefty price tag. In addition, New England has rarely thrown big dollars at defensive backs. (One thing that could help the Patriots is that it appears to be a relatively deep free-agent class, with Grimes, Aaron Ross, Carlos Rogers, Tracy Porter, Terrell Thomas and William Gay all likely to hit the market, which should drive Grimes’€™ price down.) If New England chooses not to invest in a premier corner or spend one of its first four picks on a corner in the draft, fair or not, it could be seen as a referendum on the Patriots’€™ feelings on Ras-I Dowling, a 2011 draftee who was injured for most of his rookie season.

Read More: Aaron Ross, Bill Belichick, Brent Grimes, Carlos Rogers

Free Agent Snapshot: Brandon Lloyd

02.16.12 at 10:03 pm ET
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We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. With the understanding that the NFL’€™s franchise tag window is from February 20 to March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Brandon Lloyd
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 30
Height: 6-foot
Weight: 188 pounds

On the surface, this seems to be the best free-agent fit of the offseason for New England. Even if the Patriots do manage to retain veterans Wes Welker and Deion Branch in free agency, Lloyd would be that long-elusive offensive option New England has been missing since Jabar Gaffney left following the 2008 season — another pass catcher who is not a tight end who can get you 50 or so receptions a season.

The Patriots need to build some depth at the position, they have had trouble developing young receivers, and Lloyd is on record as saying he’€™d be willing to follow Josh McDaniels to the ends of the earth. McDaniels helped turned Lloyd from a JAG who never topped 30 receptions over the first seven seasons of his career into a stud who has averaged 74 catches a game the last two years. In all, with McDaniels as the St. Louis offensive coordinator, Lloyd had 51 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns last year in 11 games with the Rams. That’€™s on the heels of 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 with Denver … a portion of which happened in McDaniels’€™ final season as head coach of the Broncos. (McDaniels coached 12 games that year in Denver.)

‘€œI can’€™t even lie about that,’€ Lloyd told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in late December when he was asked about McDaniels. ‘€œI’€™m tied to McDaniels. He uses me differently than other offensive coordinators used me in my entire career. He uses me as an every-play receiver. The short game, mid-range game, gimmick passes, deep balls.

‘€œI do everything in this offense as opposed to other coordinators who would just run me off as the deep guy; run me off into double coverage and then say I’€™m not open. So I really like how Josh uses me within the offense. ‘€¦ I want to be used in ways where I feel comfortable and I can be successful and Josh knows how to do that.’€

Why it might not work: Historically, Lloyd’€™s agent Tom Condon doesn’€™t have the best working relationship with the Patriots, having initially drawn their ire when it came to the Ben Watson negotiations. And as was the case with Reggie Wayne, the market for receivers this offseason is a fluid one, with Wayne, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Welker all on the market. Depending on how the market trends, this could be a good thing or bad thing for the Patriots. The Patriots could also choose to try and find a young receiver in the draft, as this year’€™s crop is considered to be better than average.

Read More: Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe

Randy Moss gets the Taiwainese animation treatment

02.16.12 at 7:55 pm ET
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The folks over at NMA.tv occasionally try their hand at sports (like this preview of Super Bowl XLVI), and so it was no surprise this week when they offered their take on the whole Randy Moss situation. They certainly provided an … interesting … take on things:

Read More: Randy Moss,
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