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Free agency is a busy time in the NFL calendar, but PatriotsLife will be keeping you up-to-date on the latest developments across the league. Here's your breakdown of a busy Monday that set the table for what could be a bonkers free agent market.
 
From a New England perspective, the big news of the day was the Pats slapping the tag on placekicker Stephen Gostkowski rather than safety Devin McCourty. The tag results in a $4.59 million one year deal for the veteran kicker, essentially buying the Pats more time to work out a long term deal. However, the bigger story may be McCourty failing to get the tag, as that means he'll likely hit the open market a week from today. McCourty's camp can begin hearing offers from other teams on March 7, and he'll officially hit the market at 4 pm on March 10, where he figures to be a hot commodity. McCourty will clearly be the best the safety in the market, and while all indications are that he'd like to return, that could prove difficult if he receives an offer in the ballpark of the $9 million a year the Saints gave Jairus Byrd last offseason.

The Patriots weren't the only team to utilize the franchise tag on Monday. The Broncos and Cowboys both tagged their superstar receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, at a cost of $12.82 million each. This will ensure that both teams retain their top targets for at least one more season, while buying them until June 15 to hammer out a long-term deal. For the Cowboys, that extra time could prove critical as they attempt to figure out whether there's legitimate fire behind all the smoke about an incriminating Dez Bryant video. It also means that Bryant's offensive co-star, running back Demarco Murray, will hit the market, with the Colts, Cardinals, Jaguars and (if Marshawn Lynch retires) Seahawks rumored to be interested.

Perhaps the least surprising usage of the franchise tag was Kansas City ensuring that linebacker Justin Houston remains a Chief next season. Houston, the NFL's reigning sack leader with 22 in 2014, will play for roughly $13.1 million in 2015 before likely hitting the market next offseason with a chance to land a massive payday. To consider how much of a bargain that deal is for Kansas City, consider it's nearly $2 million less than the $14.8 million tender the Giants used to keep Jason-Pierre Paul in the Big Apple for another year.

Finally, the Dolphins used the transition tag to increase their odds of keeping tight end Charles Clay. Any team can still make a contract offer to Clay, but the Dolphins have the right to match any deal he receives. In the meantime, the tag means Clay currently counts for $7.07 million against the 2015 cap.

Almost as newsworthy was some of the players who didn't receive the tag. The Lions passed on an astronomical $26.9 million tag for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, meaning the monstrous defensive lineman is set to break the bank. The Raiders, Browns and Colts have been rumored to be amongst the most interested, with Miami and Washington also reportedly in the mix.

The cash-flush Raiders, who currently have $54.69 million in cap space, are also rumored to be in the mix for Green Bay's Randall Cobb, who did not get the tag. Cobb will be joined in free agency by Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin, with those two now at the top of the Bryant and Thomas-less receiver market. The top two free agent tight ends also went untagged, leaving both Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron near certainties to play for new teams in 2015. The Jaguars, whose $65 million in cap space is enough to make even the Raiders blush, are rumored to be heavily interested in Thomas as a new go-to target for developing QB Blake Bortles.

Another name that seems destined to hit the free agent market is Houston's Andre Johnson. Johnson reportedly asked for his release or trade when informed he'd be taking a lesser role in the offense in 2015, with the Texans agreeing to grant his wish. While they'll seek a trade first, they'll be unlikely to find a suitor willing to give up compensation for the right to pay a 34 year old receiver $10.5 million this year and $11 million next year. Instead it seems increasingly likely that Johnson will hit the market, with New England surely an intriguing option for a veteran looking to end his career with a better team and quarterback situation.

Finally, several veterans were added to the free agent market on Monday after getting released from their teams. The biggest name of the group is probably Tennessee safety Bernard Pollard, which should elicit a sigh of relief from Pats fans given the Titans will play the Patriots in 2015. Other veterans to hit the market included Pittsburgh receiver Lance Moore, Giants center J.D. Walton and Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The Lions also resigned one of their own, keeping defensive lineman Darryl Tapp on a veterans minimum deal, while recently released receiver/return man Jacoby Jones reportedly has free agent visits lined up with the Bengals and Titans.

Ned Brady 3/03/2015 12:36:00 PM Edit
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