Just because the Patriots are placing the franchise tag on Joe Thuney doesn’t mean they’re keeping him. Look for a trade in New England.
The Patriots’ decision to put the franchise tag on Joe Thuney makes sure the franchise will extract value for the talented offensive guard. It does not mean he’s all that likely to play his football in New England next season.
The idea of Bill Belichick paying a starting guard a salary that’s more befitting of a left tackle just don’t pass the logic test. The Patriots’ boss has made a career out of selling off players when their price tag exceeds their value. It seems obvious that Thuney’s career has arrived at that point.
If the Patriots do elect to keep Thuney, it means they’ll be forced to pay their starting guard somewhere in the neighborhood of $14.7 million next season. They could always reduce that price tag by signing him to a long-term extension, but Thuney is under zero obligation to provide New England any sort of salary relief.
Instead, look for the Patriots to open themselves up for business. There are quite a few teams that will be interested in Thuney’s services even at that significant price tag. He’s a Pro Bowl guard who can solidify the offensive line of several Super Bowl contenders. If another team views him as the missing piece between a solid playoff run and winning the Lombardi Trophy, they could blow New England away with a sizable trade offer.
The natural question to ask is just what the Patriots can reasonably expect to receive in exchange for Thuney’s services. Belichick would love to get another first round pick, but that’s not going to happen when the other team will be required to pay almost $15 million in salary for next season.
Instead, the Patriots should lower their sights and aim for a solid pick on day two of the draft. A late second round or early third round pick would represent good value for New England. That sort of pick won’t help them replace Thuney directly, but it will allow them to acquire a younger, cheaper player to build around. In particular, it might net them a young wide receiver who can help them keep Tom Brady happy.
It’s possible the Patriots will end up keeping Thuney for another year, but that sort of overpay just isn’t Belichick’s style. Look for New England to flip him for a cheaper, team-controlled asset in the very near future.