By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Patriots insider Field Yates has guard Joe Thuney at the top of his list of NFL free agents who could be paid more than you expect. It's a good choice, because Thuney should be in line to get paid handsomely if he hits the open market.
Here's what Yates said about Thuney at ESPN.com:
"While Thuney has played left guard most often, he has also flexed out to left tackle and center when needed, handling both of those duties seamlessly. He's a technician who has held up well against the best of the best competition, has rarely been penalized, has A-plus football character and is very much still in the prime of his career. ... I expect Thuney, who played on the franchise tag this season, to sign the richest free-agent contract for a guard in NFL history."
Yates is almost certainly plugged in well to Bill Belichick and his camp, so it would be stunning if his opinion came straight from the Patriots. It's almost like Belichick knows Thuney is gone and he's doing him a solid to make sure his name is out there to get him paid. But Yates has probably heard around the league that there would be significant interest in Thuney on the open market, anyway.
The Patriots just paid Thuney about $14.8 million on the franchise tag, and he would likely fetch a similar AAV on a long-term deal as an unrestricted free agent. Thuney has rarely missed a snap or been penalized and has been the best, most versatile offensive lineman on one of the league's best units over his career. So there should definitely be teams calling about him if he's indeed going to be a free agent.
But the question for Belichick and the Patriots is, can they really afford to move on from Thuney? They do have an excellent in-house replacement option in Michael Onwenu, but he played right tackle in Marcus Cannon's place in 2020. Plugging one hole could create another. And the Patriots would lose arguably their most dependable player in the process.
If Thuney is really going to become the highest-paid guard in league history, that's not likely to come from the Patriots. The standard right now is Cowboys guard Zack Martin, who signed a six-year, $84 million extension that included $40 million guaranteed. Even after a 7-9 season, the Patriots probably wouldn't be in the business of handing out such a contract to a guard, especially when they have in-house options behind Thuney and greater needs at more important positions.
Either way, expect Thuney to finally cash in for what's been an outstanding and accomplished NFL career so far.
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 [email protected].