Defensive lineman Trey Flowers positioned himself for a massive payday after a dominant 2018 season and another Super Bowl run by the New England Patriots.

The developments of the past few days have sent Flowers’ market soaring even higher.

Star pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, the consensus No. 1 free agent available, was given a franchise tag by the Dallas Cowboys. The Houston Texans franchised Jadeveon Clowney. The Kansas City Chiefs did the same with Dee Ford. And the Seattle Seahawks tagged Frank Clark.

But the deadline passed and the New England Patriots declined to franchise Flowers, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Now arguably the No. 1 defensive end available, Flowers will likely command top dollar when free agency opens on March 13.

The Patriots’ decision to bypass the franchise tag comes as no surprise. After utilizing the tag every year from 2009-12 (on Matt Cassel, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and Wes Welker), they’ve pulled it only one year since, tagging Stephen Gostkowski in 2015 and eventually coming to an agreement on a long-term deal.

The question now: How high will the Patriots be willing to go in their effort to re-sign Flowers?

The franchise tag would have paid Flowers over $17 million in 2019, a figure the Patriots likely deemed too high given the other needs on the roster.

The Pats are operating with approximately $24 million in cap space following the release of tight end Dwayne Allen. Their division rivals, the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, enter free agency with $102 million and $79 million in space respectively, according to OverTheCap.com. They’ve gotten a close look at Flowers throughout the years. Other suitors could include the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, whoh are coached by former New England defensive coordinators Brian Flores and Matt Patricia.

In recent years, other prominent Patriots defenders reached free agency before ultimately returning to New England. Safety Devin McCourty received significant interest from several teams in 2015. The Patriots swooped in with a five-year offer worth $47.5 million to get McCourty to stay. And in 2017, Dont’a Hightower ended up re-signing after visiting the Jets and Steelers.

Flowers recorded 7.5 sacks in 2018, but contributed in ways that went beyond the box score. He often rushed from an interior position on third downs, absorbing two blockers and creating rushing lanes for teammates. A fourth-round pick out of Arkansas in 2015, Flowers was elevated to a starting role in 2016 following the trade of Chandler Jones. He excelled in three seasons as the starter, helping the Pats to two Super Bowl titles.

The other tag candidate on the Patriots roster was Gostkowski, who converted 84.4 percent of his field goals this past season, ranking 20th in the league.

The tag would have paid Gostkowski $4.9 million for the 2019 season. The 35-year-old kicker just completed a four-year deal that paid him $17.2 million.

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