By Tom E. Curran
Beginning Thursday, NFL franchises believe they canusetheir franchise tags to keep would-be unrestricted free agents from hitting the open market in 2011. If you've been paying a sliver of attention, you may be wondering what "open market" exists to be hit. The collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expires at 11:59 p.m. on March 3 when the 2010 "league year" ends. There is no agreement governing the 2011 season. That means no free agency, no trades, no payment, no nothing until a new deal is reached. It means a lockout by the owners. Butwhile the league believes it can start applying franchise tags because their window for using themcomes before the CBA expires, the NFLPA says, "Whaaaa . . . ? How can you restrict a player from becoming a free agent in a league year that doesn't exist?"This is the union's viewpoint on it disseminated last week by my oldnew partner Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com. Here's the league's vantage point (our buddy Greg Bedard at The Boston Globe had the first confirmation of tag intentions). What's the pertinence around here? Logan Mankins. After spending 2010 under a restricted free agent tender, the All-Pro left guard still has no long-term deal. Mankins told Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald at the Pro Bowl he believes he's done in New England. The Patriots have no intention of allowing Mankins to go anywhere. Absent getting a long-term deal done, sources have told me they intend to use the franchise tag on him.You're wondering what happens if the players are right and the use of the franchise tag is, for lack of a better word, illegal? Well, where's Mankins going to sign before a new CBA gets done? Nowhere. And - according to sources close to the negotiations - there currently is no battle over whether or not franchise tags will exist when the new CBA is hammered out. They should be available. Here's the scenario. The Patriots apply a tag. The NFLPA takes the league to court and a judge says, "Yeah, can't do that. These guys aren't franchised," there willalmost certainly be a window prior to free agency that allows players to be franchised and kept off the market, even if it's a compressed 24-hour window. I'm told the franchise tag just isn't an important enough issue impacting rank-and-file players for the NFLPA to dig in on.
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How do the Patriots handle Sundays after Thursday night games? Bill Belichick says he won't be glued to the television as New England's next opponent, Buffalo, takes on Arizona. But he will be watching and thinking through situations as they play out live.
"I think for today, we've done preparation work on the Bills in their first two games, so this is one of those rare opportunities where you can kind of watch the game with a little bit of an idea of how you would want to play it or what you would want to do in certain situations," Belichick said in a conference call on Sunday. "Then, obviously not knowing what they'll do, kind of see how that goes, see what they'll do in those situations compared to what you think they're going to do. Or have they come up with something else, or is this situation a little bit different and has that changed their strategy or play-calling or whatever that happens to be?"
One of the elements of the game that Belichick may give a little extra thought to is how the Bills run their offense under new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who replaced Greg Roman after Roman was fired following Buffalo's Week 2 loss to the Jets.
"Obviously, with a new coordinator, defensively we'll have to pay attention and see what changes or modifications they will make this week," Belichick said. "That may be an ongoing process. I don't know if they do decide to change things whether they could get it all done this week or maybe it would take a period of time, but we'll kind of keep our eye on that.
"In the end, we'll have the film by the end of the day today so that'll answer a lot more questions than the live part of it will. But the live part of it, I'd say as we're working on the scouting report for Buffalo, you can kind of have that game on in the background, sort of keep your eye on it, and see how it goes. But I wouldn't say we're just glued to the TV because we'll see everything that we need to see in a matter of hours anyway."
Bill Belichick has a pair of young quarterbacks dealing with injuries at the moment. Jimmy Garoppolo was inactive for Thursday's win over the Texans due to a Grade 2 AC joint sprain he endured in Week 2 against the Dolphins, and Jacoby Brissett sustained a minor injury to his right thumb in his first pro start last week.
Asked if he was concerned about either player being available for New England's Week 4 contest against the Bills, Belichick didn't provide much in the way of hints one way or another.
"Well, we'll all give our injury report on Wednesday, as we always do, as we're required to do," Belichick said. "Based on where things are at that point, that'll be represented in the report."
If there's concern over both quarterbacks as the team gets closer to its final game without Tom Brady, it may be forced to add a quarterback so as not to subject an emergency option, like receiver Julian Edelman, to extended snaps behind center.