Before the start of the NFL’s free agency period last spring, 14 players were given the franchise tag by their respective teams. Among them was New England Patriots left guard Joe Thuney, who quickly signed the tender sheet to play the season on what was effectively a one-year, $14.78 million contract.
At the time the Patriots employed the tag to keep Thuney from hitting the open market, they announced in a statement that their goal remained reaching a long-term deal. Such an agreement did not materialize before the mid-July deadline, meaning that the veteran lineman played the 2020 season under the tag and was a) unable to talk to the team about a new deal, and b) still set to enter free agency in 2021.
With the regular season now over, however, New England and Thuney’s camp are able to restart negotiations under the league’s rules.
They have 10 weeks to get a deal done before free agency is set to open in mid-March, but there are two main factors working against one being reached:
1.) Covid-19: The Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the NFL and its revenue will be felt this year after a significantly reduced number of fans was allowed to enter stadiums during the season — including in New England, where all eight home games were played in front of empty stands. As a result, the league’s salary cap is projected to stay flat or even decrease compared to 2020. This also means that teams like the Patriots might be cautious to hand out any top-of-the-market deals before a clear number is set for the upcoming season.
2.) The lure of free agency: As was the case last summer, Thuney’s camp has little incentive to sign despite Covid-19 and its potential impact on the league’s salary cap development. After all, the 28-year-old still proved himself to be one of the best interior offensive linemen in football this season and is likely in line for a major payday next year regardless of the financial situation across the league. Talent will still get paid, and Thuney is just that.
Add those two factors up, and you can see why contract talks between the two sides have reportedly gone nowhere last year and are also not expected to yield any new result soon. There is still time to get to an agreement before the start of free agency, but all signs point towards a decision coming down to the wire yet again.