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2020 NFL free agency: Patriots want ‘to reach a long-term agreement’ by using the franchise tag on Joe Thuney

Related: Patriots place the franchise tag on Joe Thuney

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Shortly ahead of Monday’s deadline, the New England Patriots used the franchise tag to keep starting left guard Joe Thuney in the fold. While the 27-year-old was the team’s most consistent blocker in 2019 and one of the best interior offensive lineman in the NFL, the move came as a surprise considering that the team entered the day with only around $19.52 million in salary cap space even before account for Devin McCourty’s new deal.

The popular belief at the time of the first report therefore was that the team would use Thuney as a trade chip to potentially further upgrade the supporting cast around possible quarterback re-signee Tom Brady. However, the official statement by the club about using the tag on the four-year veteran makes it sound like the two sides are instead trying to work out a long-term deal:

Joe has been a model teammate and an essential element to our success since joining our team in 2016. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach the goal of a long-term agreement.

While this does not rule out the possibility of a trade per se, the wording is peculiar and adds further intrigue to the Patriots’ decision to place the tag on Thuney. If New England indeed wants to sign him to a long-term contract, the best moment to do so would be over the next two days: while Thuney’s tag is worth $14.78 million, the team does not have to be under the $198.2 million salary cap until the new league year starts Wednesday afternoon.

At that time, of course, the Patriots also ideally know whether or not Brady will be back and how they need to allocate resources in order to build a competitive offense around whoever lines up under center. As for the moment, it sounds as if the plan is to have Thuney as a part of this unit.