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FOXBOROUGH, MA - NOVEMBER 15: Joe Thuney #62 of the New England Patriots looks on during the first half of a game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on November 15, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Patriots appear to have a new stud offensive lineman to potentially replace Joe Thuney, who is in line for a big new contract. But is letting Thuney walk the right move?

Thuney is on track to become an unrestricted free agent when the 2021 league year begins on March 17. The Patriots could also franchise him again, but that number would be north of $15 million. And the team explicitly said when it announced a year ago that they applied the franchise tag to Thuney that they intended to hammer out a long-term extension.

Such a deal would cost a lot, even if Thuney takes the proverbial hometown discount. But considering Thuney’s impeccable dependability over the first five years of his career, it may be a good idea to keep him around for another four.

Thuney basically rescued the Patriots offensive line from disarray when he entered the league in 2016. He’s started every game and played nearly every snap, a true anchor of an offensive line that’s been one of the team’s best assets in recent years.

Need a reminder of what life without Thuney was like? In 2015 the Patriots lost Nate Solder at tackle and depended on Josh Kline to start at guard. Marcus Cannon was still a season away from establishing himself as a legitimate starting right tackle. And those issues culminated in the 2015 AFC Championship Game against Von Miller and the Broncos, when Tom Brady took four sacks and a staggering 17 hits from the Denver pass-rush.

That doesn’t mean they’ll hurtle straight back to the dark ages if and when Thuney leaves. But losing such a consistent, reliable, and versatile player – remember, Thuney has also played center and right tackle for the Patriots – would have a ripple effect.

Joe Thuney is in line for a massive contract this offseason. It shouldn't be ruled out that it would come from the Patriots. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY)

Joe Thuney is in line for a massive contract this offseason. It shouldn’t be ruled out that it would come from the Patriots. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY)

Rookie sensation Michael Onwenu, who played right guard at Michigan, would be the logical choice to slide over to left guard as Thuney’s replacement after playing mostly right tackle as a rookie. But who plays right tackle? If Marcus Cannon decides to retire, there’s another hole that needs filling. If Cannon comes back, it’s fair to wonder how much longer the 32-year-old has left, anyway. Without Thuney, they’d have a much harder time figuring out these roles, assuming another Onwenu-type prospect doesn’t fall in their laps again.

Most reports project the Patriots to have around $60 million in cap space this offseason. A chunk of that would go toward a veteran quarterback, if Bill Belichick takes that route. The Pats could also use an established talent at wide receiver and/or tight end. So devoting a sizable percentage of their space to Thuney – even assuming he takes a slight discount at around $13 million per season – would put a strain on Belichick’s ability to rebuild a roster that has a lot of question marks beyond left guard.

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But losing Thuney could end up plugging one leak while springing another. And it would be at the expense of the guy who epitomized “Availability is more important than ability.” And that’s selling Thuney short; his ability is up there with the best guards in the league.

Problem is, Belichick needs linebackers and tight ends and receivers and oh yeah there’s the quarterback issue. So guard could understandably be low on the list of priorities. So the hope is that Belichick can revamp the offense with weapons and a good signal-caller while absorbing the inevitable hit the offensive line would take without Thuney. It’s one of many tough decisions the head coach has coming up this offseason.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.