By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — On Monday afternoon, the Patriots chose to not apply their franchise tag on any of their impending free agents. That meant that Trey Flowers instantly became the best defensive end on the market, available to any NFL team that wants to throw a big ol’ bucket of cash at him.

But … might Flowers intend on sticking around in Foxboro?

That is a reasonable conclusion based on a comment Flowers made to a crowd of happy hockey fans out in Springfield on Tuesday evening. Flowers was a special guest of the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, and he showed up with a very special friend: the Lombardi Trophy.

“I just want to say thanks to everybody in the New England area, showing the Patriots support. We couldn’t have did it without y’all. This number six,” Flowers said, tapping the Lombardi Trophy. “We want seven. We want seven. Yeah.”

So … he wants number seven?

Hmm …

Of course, Flowers was surrounded by Patriots fans, celebrating a Patriots achievement. It was most likely a case of an athlete saying what needs to or should be said in a given moment to make the fans around him happy. It’s no different from a player thanking “the best fans in the world” while speaking at a rally.

At the same time … this is March, and the sports world is dying for something to talk about at all times. And a comment like that, well, it makes you say this:

Hmm.

Interesting.

The comment can at the very least provide some bolstered spirits to Patriots fans who are hoping that Flowers explores the free-agent market, takes offers from some teams, then returns to the Patriots with those numbers so that the local football team can come close to matching those numbers and keeping the player on the roster for years to come. That happened successfully with Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower in the past, so perhaps it’ll happen again.

After all, how can Trey Flowers help deliver number seven if he’s playing for the Dolphins? Can’t happen. Unless he’s talking about seven wins during the season. He could probably help with that.

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