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2021 NFL free agency: Patriots reportedly make last-second effort to keep Joe Thuney

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NFL: OCT 25 49ers at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the New England Patriots swung a trade to re-acquire Trent Brown in last week, it seemed as additional confirmation about their plans along the offensive line. Brown is expected to join Isaiah Wynn as a starting tackle, which in turn would free up second-year man Michael Onwenu to move back to his more natural guard position and eventually replace impending free agent Joe Thuney.

Thuney, after all, will hit the open market coming off an impressive five-year stint as the Patriots’ starting left guard. A hyper-reliable player who has started 90 of a possible 90 games in his NFL career, the former third-round draft pick is slate to become one of the highest paid interior offensive lineman in the league — possibly commanding upwards of upwards of $14 million per year.

Given the Patriots’ depth up front and the aforementioned move to bring back Trent Brown, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the team would part ways with the 28-year-old. That is especially true given that New England and Thuney’s camp had very limited conversation since the team used the franchise tag on him last year.

If a recent report by Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated is to be believed, however, the Patriots are making a last-second effort to possibly keep Thuney in the fold after all:

[W]ashington taking Brandon Scherff off the market should really help New England’s Joe Thuney. It seemed the Patriots were resigned to Thuney’s 2021 departure after tagging him last March — they had very minimal discussions on a long-term deal with him thereafter, and no progress had been made right up to when the Patriots agreed to deal for Trent Brown last week. But since then, the lines of communication have reopened, and the Patriots have expressed that they’d like to keep Thuney. Whether the sides can meet on a price remains to be seen.

New England taking a patient approach to contract negotiations is nothing new, but this case is still a noteworthy one given all the facts outlined above. Even though he was their best and most consistent offensive linemen the last two years, the Patriots seemed well-equipped to let him leave and replace him with the talent they have in-house.

It remains to be seen if anything comes from that recent uptick in communication between the two parties, but it does create some interesting scenarios to consider — from the Patriots doing their due diligence to Thuney’s market possibly not being as strong with the salary cap dropping to $182.5 million this year. The second one in particular would be intriguing from New England’s perspective.

After all, the team and Thuney himself might both interested in continuing to work together on a one-year pact in case his market is indeed not developing as he would hope. Staying in New England would allow him to play in a familiar environment, while still being able to position himself for next year’s free agency — one that might be more friendly to him given the salary cap’s expected increase in 2022.

For the time being, however, this is nothing but speculation and another layer of intrigue to be added to a free agency period in which the Patriots are expected to be an active player.