With one month to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s starting offensive line.
Name: Joe Thuney
Position: Offensive guard
Jersey number: 62
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6-foot-5, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? After playing both tackle and guard during his five-year career at N.C. State, the Patriots opted to use Thuney on the interior of the line following their selection of him in the third round of the 2016 draft. Giving him a clearly defined role as opposed to the more versatile one he held in college paid immediate dividends: Thuney earned the starting left guard position during his first training camp in the NFL and went on to start all 19 of New England’s games that year — including the Super Bowl.
His rookie season was a sign of things to come. Over the three seasons that followed, Thuney proved himself one of the most reliable offensive linemen in all of football. Not only did he hardly ever leave the field — at one point playing 2,004 consecutive offensive snaps between the 2017 and 2019 seasons — and has yet to miss any playing time because of injury-related reasons, he also developed into a consistent blocker up front that progressed nicely both in the running game and as a pass protector through is pro career.
All in all, Thuney has started 74 of a possible 74 games over the first four years of his career as a fixture along New England’s offensive line. Along the way, he has helped the organization win two Super Bowls while he himself also earned some individual recognition: he was named to the Pro Football Writers’ All-Rookie team in 2016, was named a second-team All-Pro for his 2019 campaign, and is a member of the Patriots’ Team of the 2010s.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off the best season of his career and an impressive playoff run that saw the Patriots’ offensive line dominate both on the ground and in the passing game, Thuney’s preparations for the new season did saw him take some snaps in a new position. With projected starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn still recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury, New England’s coaching staff opted to give Thuney some regular looks at the position during spring practices.
Once Wynn returned and stepped into his normal spot on the left end of the line, however, the veteran guard moved back to the interior to man the role he has held throughout his career up until that point. And Thuney filled it at an outstanding level once again in 2019: he once more proved himself a terrific pass protector and also delivered his best run-blocking season since arriving in the league, he also was the most consistent and productive member of the Patriots’ otherwise shaky-at-times offensive line.
As a pass protector, Thuney gave up just 18 quarterback disruptions all year long despite being asked to pass-block on 732 total snaps: he surrendered only one sack and also allowed 11 hits as well as six hurries. In the running game, meanwhile, the Patriots were able to gain 274 yards last year when running behind the left tackle position for an average of 5.2 yards per carry — one of the best in the NFL and an indictment for Thuney’s improvement despite some uncertainty at the two positions surrounding him.
Thuney also was his usual durable self. While the aforementioned impressive streak of 2,000-plus consecutive snaps came to an end in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins — he was given a breather late during the Patriots’ blowout win — he still was on the field for 1,201 of a possible 1,210 offensive snaps (99.3%). As a result of his high playing total, Thuney, who also was on the field for 55 of 474 snaps in the kicking game (11.6%), led New England in snaps for the second consecutive season.
Thuney, who was voted a second-team All-Pro after the season, also proved his positional versatility during his fourth year in the league: in the fourth quarter of New England’s opening game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he left his usual spot to move to the right tackle position and fill in for injured starting option Marcus Cannon. While Thuney returned to man the left guard spot the following game, Week 1 did show the extent of his value once again.
What is his projected role? Essentially since arriving in New England, Thuney has been the team’s starting left guard — a role he is also expected to fill heading into the 2020 season. As such, he will hardly ever leave the field once again while also playing a pivotal role in both the running and the passing game: he is a key part of combination blocks both on the outside and the interior, serving as a pull-blocker, and capable of winning one-on-ones on a regular basis as well no matter if the Patriots use a zone or a man blocking scheme.
What is his special teams value? Thuney’s special teams contributions may be flying under the radar compared to his role on the offensive side of the ball, but he is a valuable member of the Patriots’ kicking game operation as well: he is regularly used as a front-line blocker — either a guard or a tackle — on field goal and extra point kicking attempts. Thuney has has held this role since his 2016 rookie campaign.
Does he have positional versatility? While he has played the vast majority of his NFL snaps at left guard, Thuney does bring some versatility to the table. Not only did he play all five offensive line positions during his time in college, he also saw nine combined snaps at tackle over the last four years: the 27-year-old was used at left tackle for one snap during the 2018 regular season, and for eight as a stand-in for an injured Marcus Cannon on the right end of the line.
What is his salary cap situation? Shortly before he was scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency, the Patriots placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Thuney. He signed the tender sheet just a short time later, meaning that the veteran is currently under what is essentially one-year pact with a salary cap number of $14.78 million — none of which guaranteed unless for injury. New England does have options to decrease this cap impact, though: the team could either trade Thuney and get rid of the full $14.78 million, or sign him to a contract extension. The latter route, however, is only an option until July 15. If no deal is reached at that point, Thuney will play the 2019 season under the tag.
What is his roster outlook? Unless the Patriots opt to move on from him via trade — an unlikely but not impossible scenario — Thuney is a shoo-in to fill the team’s left guard spot again heading into the 2020 season. With him being a proven commodity no matter the situation, the main question therefore is whether or not the organization will reach a long-term contract with him ahead of next month’s deadline, or if the veteran will play the season on the franchise tag and ultimately become a candidate to leave as an unrestricted free agent next spring.