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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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Wes Welker could get the franchise tag from the Patriots. (AP)

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.

“Well, of course I want to stay here,” Welker said when asked about his future during the season. “But 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.”

“Well, I think Wes wants to be here, and we want him here,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft in January. “He’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
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