The New England Patriots have made their first big move of the 2021 offseason by trading for Trent Brown. They acquired Brown and a seventh-rounder in 2022 for only a fifth in 2022, a price that could be considered stealing since Brown played at a Pro Bowl level just one year ago.
As part of the deal, Brown also reworked his contract to a one-year deal worth a maximum of $11 million. This gives the Patriots cap flexibility, while also giving Brown a chance to cash in if he plays well this year.
The move almost certainly also signals the end of Marcus Cannon’s Patriots career. There were rumors about him retiring before last season, so he might retire now, or, the team simple moves on. It’s a crowded tackle position with Brown in the fold, and Cannon’s salary cap number is simply too big for a player projected to be a backup, which is almost certainly what he would be.
Most people, including me, would assume, at first glance, that it also means Joe Thuney would be walking away as well. That assumption, however, becomes a lot less certain the more you think about it.
Thuney is one of the best guards in the NFL, and is going to command top of the market money. The Patriots might not be willing to pay that kind of money, especially when they already pay Shaq Mason a good chunk of change at right guard. However, the cash that Thuney is going to command may not be too much more than the money they’re going to have to pay another one of their offensive linemen next year: Isaiah Wynn.
Wynn is entering the final year of his rookie contract, which means the Patriots are going to have to make a decision about him soon. They have him on a very cheap deal this season, and do not have to make a long-term decision until after 2022 but the first big deadline is coming up this spring: New England has to make a call on his fifth-year contract option.
If the Patriots decided to pick up Wynn’s option, it would cost them an estimated $10.117 million, according to Over the Cap. Then, they would more than likely need to sign him to an extension, which would probably cost at least $13-14 million per season. That is steep, especially considering Wynn’s trouble staying healthy (he has played just 19 of 52 games since 2018).
Would New England be willing to pay that kind of money given the circumstances? If not, moving on from Wynn sooner rather than later might actually be a realistic option — one that could be directly tied to Thuney’s future as well.
Of course, it is unclear what Wynn’s trade value would be in case the organization decided to go that way. We have seen two tackles be traded in the last two days for almost nothing. And, although Wynn is significantly better (Isaiah Wilson) and cheaper (Trent Brown) than either of those players, what could the Patriots realistically expect to get back?
Could they get a third-round pick for Wynn? If they could, that trade might make a lot of sense for them to do. If it is much lower than that, the value may not be there, especially with them getting a third next year if they let Thuney walk after all.
Let’s go back to Thuney, though.
When we talk about him, we talk about him being the highest paid guard in the league, which is what he deserves. What does that money look like? Brandon Scherff is currently the highest paid guard in the league, but he’s on his second consecutive year on the franchise tag, so let’s throw him out. After him, the highest paid guard is... Joe Thuney. His salary of $14.7 million was the highest among guards not named Scherff last year.
Let’s assume that he wants a raise from that, and he asks for $16 million per season for five years, a total of $80 million. That would technically be a lower total than Zach Martin, but for one fewer season as well. This seems like a deal that Thuney would be willing to sign, and it would likely not be much more than what the Patriots might have to be paying Wynn after his fifth-year option in 2022.
Of course, the Thuney-for-Wynn theory assumes two things. First, that the Patriots believe Michael Onwenu can play tackle moving forward. If they believe that he is best suited at guard, though, and will struggle at tackle long-term, then you can take this article and throw it in the trash.
The second is that the Patriots can find another option at left tackle in case Trent Brown leaves after this season. Obviously, Brown would play the position this year with Wynn gone, but what to do after that is the question. Seeing if Justin Herron continues to develop is certainly a possibility, as is going after another tackle in the draft this season (which I expect New England to do regardless).
It is obvious that there are a lot of questions that remain to be answered if the Patriots want to keep Joe Thuney instead of Isaiah Wynn. What could they get in return for Wynn? Can Onwenu play right tackle for the foreseeable future? Can they find a permanent left tackle after this season?
At the end of the day, though, with the cap space to make the move, and the relative cost of the two players, keeping Thuney might actually make the most sense for the Patriots’ future. Also, just imagine a line of Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Michael Onwenu. It’s hard to imagine that not being the best offensive line in football. That alone makes makes this idea an awfully tempting one.