With franchise tag window open, Patriots have until March 1 to make a call

With franchise tag window open, Patriots have until March 1 to make a call

The NFL hit one of the notable dates on its offseason calendar on Wednesday as the window to apply the franchise and transition tags to pending free agents officially opened. Teams have until Mar. 1 at 4 p.m. to use their tag designations.

Though the Patriots opted not to tag anyone last offseason, they have several key contributors set to hit free agency this year, and applying the tag may make more sense. Chief among the candidates to be tagged? Linebacker and defensive captain Dont'a Hightower.

If the Patriots and Hightower can't reach a long-term extension, the franchise tag might make sense even if the price tag -- about $14.6 million guaranteed -- is steep for an off-the-ball linebacker. Not only is Hightower a leader in the locker room and on the field as the signal-caller for Bill Belichick's defense, he's a proven big-game performer who has made critical fourth-quarter plays in each of his team's last two Super Bowl wins.

Hightower also may have placed himself in the category of too valuable to lose. Should he hit the open market and sign elsewhere, the Patriots would be left relatively thin in terms of experience at the linebacker position with Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin and Elandon Roberts as their holdovers at that spot from 2016. While that group saw valuable time calling plays with Hightower off the field, all three have just one year (or less than that in Van Noy's case) in the Patriots system under their belts.

The drop-off from Hightower to the next man up would be significant, making the franchise tag a valuable tool in that it would keep Hightower off the market, while simultaneously buying the Patriots some time to try to work out a long-term extension.

Asked about the franchise tag last week, Hightower said, "That's a lot of money."

Other impending free agents who played big roles for the Patriots in 2016 will be worth consideration for new contracts, but the cost of the franchise tag at those positions may be prohibitive.

If Belichick wants to keep tight end Martellus Bennett in the fold on the tag, the cost is projected to be about $9.8 million. Others like corner Logan Ryan ($14.3 million if tagged), defensive tackle Alan Branch ($13.4 million if tagged) and safety Duron Harmon ($11 million if tagged) would very likely be deemed to pricey to tag. 

The Patriots last used their franchise tag in 2015 when they applied it to kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Later in the offseason, Gostkowski and the team worked out a long-term deal that made him the highest-paid kicker in the league and will keep him in New England through 2018.

Receiver Wes Welker (2012), guard Logan Mankins (2011), defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (2010), quarterback Matt Cassel (2009), corner Asante Samuel (2007), kicker Adam Vinatieri (2005, 2002) and safety Tebucky Jones (2003) are the others who have been given the franchise tag since Belichick took over as head coach of the Patriots in 2000. 

Trump invites Patriots to White House to celebrate Super Bowl on April 19

Trump invites Patriots to White House to celebrate Super Bowl on April 19

The Patriots have been invited to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl LI victory with president Donald Trump on April 19.

How many players RSVP in the affirmative to the invitation remains to be seen. 

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, a Patriots fan, announced the date at a press briefing on Thursday. Spicer noted that the visit will coincide with the 242nd anniversary of the battles at Lexington and Concord.

Though Trump considers Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as friends, several members of last season's championship roster have noted already that they didn't play to attend a celebratory trip to Trump's White House. 

The list of those who have gone on record saying they weren't interested in heading to Washington, DC this year includes safety Devin McCourty, tight end Martellus Bennett (now a member of the Packers), defensive end Chris Long (free agent) and running back LeGarrette Blount (free agent). Defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Dont'a Hightower also noted that they didn't plan to go.

The Patriots are the first championship team that Trump has extended an invitation to during his presidency.

Belichick and his staff will be hard at work before taking some time off to celebrate. The White House visit will take place about one week before Day 1 of the NFL Draft.

Report: Revis return to the Patriots looks 'increasingly likely'

Report: Revis return to the Patriots looks 'increasingly likely'

Darrelle Revis put together the worst year of his career in 2016 and was released by the Jets despite being guaranteed $6 million next season. The team was willing to pay him to simply stay home. 

A return to the NFL hasn't been ruled out for the 31-year-old and seven-time Pro Bowler, though, and multiple people are reportedly under the impression that Revis will make his way back to New England.

According to Jason La Canfora, a Revis return to the Patriots "looks increasingly likely." One personnel person told La Canfora that he believes Revis can still play, but his team is convinced he's headed to New England.

"We did our work on him," the personnel man told La Canfora. "He can still play. He can cover. He doesn’t have that long speed anymore; he’s not going to cover a No. 1 receiver deep. But he can cover in tight spaces and he has great instincts. The film is not as bad as some would have you believe. He’s a perfect fit in that quarters scheme Belichick runs, and they have the kind of safeties who can help him out, too. We’re convinced he’s going back to New England. It just makes too much sense."

The Patriots could have some depth concerns at corner should Malcolm Butler play elsewhere in 2017. They signed Stephon Gilmore to be their top bread-winner at the position, and they have Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones rounding out the depth chart.

Revis could be an attractive option to potentially fit into the mix as a top-three guy at the position, but does he still have the ability to reach that level? Quarterbacks had a rating of 104.2 when targeting him last season, and he has admitted he was in less than peak physical condition for the 2016 season. 

Bill Belichick typically likes to field motivated teams that are hungry to compete for championships. After Revis won his title in 2014 with the Patriots, he earned a huge pay day from the Jets and seemed less than fully-motivated in his second season after returning to the team that drafted him. 

Revis insisted recently that he still wants to play. 

"The hunger is definitely there," Revis told reporters last week after he had assault charges dismissed in Pittsburgh. "It’s just passion and love for the game. I’m excited for the season to start. I can focus on what team I can fit with and the best system."

Some believe a move to safety is coming for Revis, but the Patriots are well-stocked there with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon as their top-three options.