We've already done some digging in terms of just how the NFL's franchise tag window -- and what happens around the league while that window is open -- will impact Trey Flowers' odds to stick in New England. If what we heard from former NFL agent and CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry on The Next Pats Podcast is any indication, those odds aren't looking great.
"He's going to be the 'belle of the ball' when it comes to young pass-rushers," Corry said of this free-agent class. "I expect Dee Ford, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney and Demarcus Lawrence to get franchised. [Flowers] didn't have the sack numbers that those guys did, but I don't really look at sacks as indicative of pass-rush ability. He had 64 quarterback pressures during the regular season. That was tied with Frank Clark and one more than Lawrence had and five more than Clowney had.
"So if all these guys get franchised and you've got two coaches that know him, and sometimes familiarity brings comfort in free agency, you've got Matt Patricia and Brian Flores, who both need a pass-rusher. We know New England didn't want to pay Chandler Jones, who's actually a better player. This thing -- with those two teams and maybe another team [interested in Flowers] -- could get out of hand. This could be a guy that does really well on the open market. It wouldn't surprise me if he got more than that Olivier Vernon deal a couple of years ago, which was at $17 million per year."
The franchise tag could be in play to keep Flowers in New England for another year, though that seems unlikely for a variety of reasons. If that's off the table, would the Patriots ever think about trying to get Flowers back on a deal nearing (or exceeding) the Vernon pact?
The Patriots weren't willing to go to those lengths to keep Jones, but they were able to trade Jones before his walk year to pick up some value beyond whatever compensatory pick they would've received for losing Jones as a free agent. Plus, while Flowers may not have the pass-rush upside Jones did, one could make an argument that Flowers has been a better fit in the Patriots' scheme because he can play anywhere along the defensive line and can make a real impact in both the run and pass games. Jones wasn't the run-stuffer or interior rusher Flowers has proven to be.
How those factors impact New England's willingness to pay Flowers top dollar will be fascinating to watch. One thing's for certain: There will be other teams interested in Flowers, other teams who will likely have more money (and cap space) with which to part.
The Lions, for instance, could be in play for Flowers' services. The Athletic's Chris Burke told us on The Next Pats Podcast that a reunion between Flowers and Patricia, while far from a guarantee, would make a lot of sense.
"I don't think that there's any question that they'll be interested in him," Burke said. "This is going to be kind of a litmus test for them. Even last week, [Lions GM and ex-Pats executive] Bob Quinn was talking about how they went after -- the way he phrased it was, 'Every tight end that was available last year,' and sort of put a hard cap on what they were willing to spend on each guy.
"They didn't end up getting any of those big names and then ended up falling into Luke Willson and Levin Toilolo. This'll be a test to see if [Quinn] is really willing to spend at a position where they Lions need someone. It's pretty easy to connect the dots between Trey Flowers and Matt Patricia.
"I think the other test is they didn't have a great pass-rush last year . . . but they were able to sort of piece together some production from that pass-rush between the guys they had there and the coverage they were able to come up with in the secondary. They picked up Romeo Okwara off waivers just before the season started, they traded for Eli Harold for a conditional seventh-rounder, and those guys combined for 12.5 sacks. So do you go spend a ton of money for maybe a premier pass rusher or do you sort of try to nickel and dime it up there and let Matt Patricia do his thing? How heavily they pursue Trey Flowers will be a real indicator for what they think they need to do moving forward as an organization."
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