While the New England Patriots lost one of their starting offensive linemen from a year ago to free agency — center Ted Karras will wear the Miami Dolphins’ uniform in 2020 — they made sure that another one would not go anywhere without their consent: shortly before Monday’s deadline, the team placed the franchise tag on left guard Joe Thuney to keep him from entering the legal tampering period preceding unrestricted free agency.
Three days later, as his agent Mike McCartney announced on Twitter, he has signed the sheet to complete the move.
As a result, Thuney is now under a one-year contract that pays him a fully guaranteed salary depending on his position and the specific tag used. In the 27-year-old’s case, New England used the non-exclusive tag worth $14.78 million this year. The non-exclusive label means that Thuney is still able to negotiate with other teams, but that they would have to give up two first-round draft choices in case the Patriots declined to match an incoming offer.
Signing the tender sheet this early in the process — Thuney is the first of the 14 players tagged this offseason — means that the team will not be able to rescind it if it would have chosen to do so. It also opens the door for three possible scenarios:
1.) Thuney plays the season on the tag: In this case, he would remain with the Patriots but hit their 2020 salary cap with a fully-guaranteed $14.78 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent again next year.
2.) Thuney signs an extension with the Patriots: Now that he is under contract albeit on the tag, the team and the four-year veteran can work towards a new deal in order to bring his cap number down this year and keep him in the fold beyond the 2020 season. The Patriots have until July 15 to do so, or else Thuney would play the entire season on the tag.
3.) Thuney gets traded: Players that have not signed their franchise tag tender sheets cannot be traded, so Thuney signing it now gives New England the option to find a partner if the team opts to move him. In case a trade is made, his entire current salary cap hit would transfer to his new club.
All in all, this move was little more than a formality as it seemed both sides were satisfied with using the tag in the first place. The contractual process still continues now, however, with both the Patriots and Thuney having options while also keeping an eye on his long-term future in New England or to maximizing his value with a salary cap that is expected to skyrocket in 2021.