BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots have two days to apply their franchise tag to a player, but with the clock ticking, it remains unknown if they'll utilize it.
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower (an unrestricted free agent) is the likeliest candidate to be hit with the tag before Wednesday's 4 p.m. deadline, but The Boston Herald's Jeff Howe is reporting that it's still unclear if the Patriots plan on using the tag on any player.
Howe also adds that a contract extension with Hightower is not imminent:
Hightower has been a key component to New England's defense since the team drafted him 25th overall in 2012. He was a first-time captain in 2016, making his first Pro Bowl after registering 65 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 13 games.
But Hightower's contributions go far beyond the stat sheet. He's the defensive signal caller, originally as a fill-in during his second season when Jerod Mayo was hurt, claiming the role as his own the following year. He's also made game-changing plays in each of New England's last two Super Bowl victories; stuffing Seattle's Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line on the play before Malcolm Butler's game-saving interception in Super Bowl XLIX and forcing a Matt Ryan fumble that helped spark New England's Super Bowl LI comeback against the Atlanta Falcons earlier this month.
Retaining Hightower this offseason is important given New England's lack of depth at the linebacker position. Jonathan Freeny, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, and Elandon Roberts are all behind Hightower on the depth chart, but none would deliver close to the same kind of production on the field.
The Patriots have not applied the franchise tag to a player since 2015.
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