When the New England Patriots announced placing the franchise tag on starting left guard Joe Thuney in March, their official statement said that the tag would allow “both sides more time to try to reach the goal of a long-term agreement.” While the Patriots and Thuney’s camp have until the start of the 2021 free agency next March to reach common ground in their negotiations, the next big deadline to watch is already coming up exactly one month from today.
The NFL’s offseason calendar states the following about July 15:
At 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for any club that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multiyear contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his prior club for the 2020 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game.
From New England’s perspective, this is pretty straight forward: the team either reaches a contract extension with Thuney until July 15, 4pm, or the 27-year-old will play the upcoming season under the franchise tag and hit unrestricted free agency next spring.
The Patriots likely prefer the first of the two scenarios, as it would allow them to keep Thuney beyond the 2020 season and also lower his current salary cap number of $14.78 million — a move that would give the team more financial flexibility after it currently finds itself only $650,989 under the cap, according to Miguel Benzan. Bringing Thuney’s cap impact this year back to more reasonable levels while still making him one of the highest paid players at his positions, would be the best-case outcome for both parties.
The problem is that Thuney’s camp has little incentive to do so, even with next year’s uncertain salary cap situation due to the Coronavirus pandemic and its potential impact on the league’s revenue. Even if he suffers an injury this year — Thuney is one of the most durable players in football and has never missed a game due to injury since joining the Patriots as a third-round draft pick in 2016 — he is likely in line for a major payday next year.
Contract talks between the two sides have therefore reportedly gone nowhere so far. That could change over the next few weeks, however, and with the July 15 deadline coming up. Up until that point, all options still appear on the table. Thuney and the Patriots, who will likely initiate talks next month, could work out a long-term deal, but he could also play on the franchise tag tender that he signed in mid-March or even get traded (a move that would clear Thuney’s entire cap hit from the team’s books).
Even though we are in the middle of the NFL’s most quiet period, New England will have some decisions to make and business to handle.