From the Providence Journal’s Tom E. Curran.

(“Yes!!! Bob Kraft’s gonna give another speech!”)

Adam Vinatieri will come one step closer to hitting the open seas of free agency today.
The Patriots have until 4 p.m. today to designate a franchise player, and all indications are that they won’t use the designation. New England made Vinatieri their franchise player in 2002 and 2005. Not doing it today means that — unless the team and the kicker come to a contract accord before March 3 — he will be an unrestricted free agent.

The franchise tag allows a team to keep a player out of free agency. Usually, that means paying him a salary equal to the top five salaries at his position. But if a player is already the highest paid at his position, he must be given a 20-percent raise over his previous year’s salary.

The Patriots gave Vinatieri the 20-percent bump last year and paid him $2.51 million. But the expense of franchising Vinatieri in 2006, $3.01 million, is just too rich for New England. By comparison, the highest salaried kicker on the books for 2006 according to the NFLPA Web site is Arizona’s Neil Rackers, who will make $1.8 million.

Best-case scenario for Vinatieri and the Patriots is a new deal before March 3. Rackers, the league’s most productive kicker over the last two seasons, signed a four-year, $6.4-million extension with the Cardinals last November that included a $3-million signing bonus. Certainly, Vinatieri would command the same money, maybe more.

In the unlikely event Vinatieri and New England can’t come to terms, what are the odds a midwestern club might opt for a less idiotic, liquored up kicker?

Not very good, I admit. But if I was trying to fill an extra 10 minutes on WEEI, I’d certainly bring it up.