Joe Thuney is one of the New England Patriots' best players, and also one of the team's most important.
The Patriots offensive line was hit hard by injuries last season. Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn missed half the season, starting right tackle Marcus Cannon missed one game, and starting center David Andrews missed the entire 2019 campaign due to blood clots. Thuney was one of the few constants -- playing and starting in all 16 games plus the AFC Wild Card Round loss to the Tennessee Titans.
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The veteran left guard played at a high level, too, earning second team All-Pro honors. He also ranked as one of the top players at his position in 2018, and his performance in Super Bowl LIII, especially late in the game against Los Angeles Rams defensive superstar Aaron Donald, was fantastic.
Thuney was franchise tagged by the Patriots in March, and he'll play this season on the tag after both sides were unable to work out a new contract by July's deadline. The process of free agency was something the 27-year-old veteran hadn't previously experienced as a pro.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Thuney told reporters Wednesday on a video conference call. "Played out my rookie contract, then heading into free agency back in March, it was a new experience for me. I got the call, got the franchise tag and, like I said, the Patriots are such a great organization, I'm happy I can just keep playing football and keep doing what I love to do. My agent helped me a lot with the process. Just took it a day at a time."
Thuney also was asked if he's optimistic that a long-term deal with the Patriots could be reached, but he didn't delve too far into what the future might hold.
“I’m just focused on this training camp, trying to get better day in, day out and controlling things I can control,” Thuney said. “Right now, that’s just trying to get better a little bit today and going into tomorrow.”
If the Patriots really want to keep Thuney in New England long term, they should have the salary cap flexibility to do so. The Pats are expected to be among the leaders in salary cap space entering the 2021 season. In fact, OvertheCap.com projects New England to have the fourth-most cap space in 2021 at about $76 million, although these numbers could change based on how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts revenue.
The Patriots will have plenty of positions to address with their cap space next offseason, and that could include quarterback if the Cam Newton signing ends up being a success. That said, it would behoove the Patriots to seriously pursue keeping Thuney in the fold for the foreseeable future. A quality offensive line goes a long way in determining an NFL team's overall success.