While it remains to be seen whether or not the NFL decides to extend its franchise tag window beyond Tuesday’s deadline — the uncertain salary cap situation might force such a move — teams have already started to apply the tag. So far, five of them have taken advantage of the opportunity to keep premier free agents from entering the open market.
One team that has been suspiciously quiet so far are the New England Patriots. One year after using the tag on guard Joe Thuney, they have not made a move yet.
It seems unlikely that this will change in the coming hours or, if the deadline is indeed moved, days.
When it comes to the probably the only realistic candidate to be tagged, however, it seems a decision has aleady been made: according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, thus essentially confirming what has been the general belief going back all the way to January, the Patriots will not use the franchise tag to keep Joe Thuney from hitting free agency once it opens on March 17.
Using the tag on Thuney for a second straight year would have cost the Patriots $17.7 million. Instead, he is now expected to receive a massive contract in line with the other top players at his position group. The 28-year-old earning more than $14 million annually on a new deal would not come as a surprise despite the projected salary cap decrease this year.
The combination of the Washington Football Team tagging Brandon Scherff and Thuney’s success since joining the NFL as a third-round draft pick in 2016 makes him becoming the highest-paid guard in football a realistic outcome.
The biggest question from New England’s perspective is whether or not the team will still try to keep him in the fold. Thuney has been a starter since Day One, after all, and has played 90 of a possible 90 games over the first five years of his career. A fixture along the Patriots’ offensive line and one-time second-team All-Pro, he has helped the organization win two Super Bowls and also was named to its Team of the 2010s.
His experience, durability and versatility — he started two games at center during the 2020 season — make him a prime target for teams looking to upgrade their interior offensive lines. But while the Patriots have more salary cap space available than all but two other teams in the NFL, there is still a chance Thuney’s price tag ultimately moves out of the team’s comfort zone.
This is especially true given that there has not been any progress on a new contract and that the two sides are nowhere near an extension at the moment, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. The Patriots and Thuney’s camp are essentially where they were last offseason, when New England surprisingly decided to use the tag to keep him in the fold one more year.
All things considered, it would therefore not be a shocker to see Thuney wear a different uniform next season. Stranger things have happened in free agency, but at the time being this appears to be the most likely outcome. Scherff getting the tag and being removed as the only other elite guard in free agency only adds to this belief.
Meanwhile, four other players have either already been tagged or are expected to see the franchise tag come their way: Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons, Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Taylor Moton, New York Jets safety Marcus Maye, and, most recently, New York Giants defensive tackle Leonard Williams.