It is time to play NFL tag, a game of high finance and gamesmanship.

The assumption in these parts is the Patriots must tag Wes Welker, Aqib Talib or Sebastian Vollmer soon, all of them being eligible to go elsewhere if they don’t. Frankly, the Pats could choose not to play tag at all if they believe there will be enough bargains out there to avoid a high-end, one-year fiscal risk. But to me the play is to tender Talib with the non-exclusive tag, meaning if he signs elsewhere you can match the offer or get two No. 1 picks as ransom while working to re-sign Vollmer long-term.

Because Welker was franchised a year ago, he is in line for a 20 percent raise to $11.4 million if tagged, and that’s not going to happen. Tagging Vollmer would keep a young offensive line intact but cost either $8.568 million for a transition tag, $9.66 million for a non-exclusive tag or an even higher number to be determined after April 19 for an exclusive tag. To put the transition tag on Talib would cost $8.939 million and the non-exclusive franchise tag would run $10.668 million.

The exclusive tag precludes any team from negotiating with a player but adds a higher, as yet undetermined cost that would leave the Patriots unsure of exactly what the cap hit would be until five days before the draft.