If you figured the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick had to sign Joe Thuney to a long-term extension, thus keeping the talented offensive guard for the next half-dozen years, at an affordable rate and knocking down the $14.78 million cap hit in 2020, you were not alone.
But you were also wrong.
Welcome to the club. So was I.
Now the Patriots are in a slightly different place going forward. And Mr. Unpredictable, a k a The Greatest Coach of All-Time, appears to have two decisions to make.
Does Belichick trade Thuney for draft capital, thus gaining a good chunk of cash for his new defense?
Or does he suck it up and pay Thuney, who hits the offensive line trifecta – tough, talented and durable – for the one year and get the third round compensatory pick when he signs elsewhere?
As for another potential option – pay the $14.78 million now and sign him as a free agent next offseason – I wouldn’t count on it.
While Belichick has used the “franchise” tag several times over his two-decades’ run, only three players – Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel and Wes Welker – actually played a season receiving the hefty deal.
The rest eventually came to an agreement or were soon traded.
Vinatieri, Samuel and Welker were all gone the next year after their “franchise’ tags.
He and Samuel agreed, before his final year here, that he would be granted free agency.
As for Vinatieri and Welker, Belichick was not happy what he thought was “over-paying” Vinatieri, by then already called the “most clutch” kicker that ever lived, and Welker, who dropped a late pass in the second Super Bowl loss to the N.Y. Giants.
Which brings us back to Thuney.
He is rated among the top five guards in the NFL, having given up only one sack over two seasons.
Thuney has all of the leverage. One comparable, Eagles guard Brandon Brooks, signed a four-year, $56 million contract extension last season and is guaranteed $30 million.
Thuney will play for half of that entire guarantee in 2020.
With the Patriots losing one of the all-time great offensive line coaches in Dante Scarnecchia, this might not be the time to deal away a Pro Bowl lineman.
This was, if they are lucky in the health department, going to be one of the best offensive lines the Patriots have boasted with David Andrews at center, Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, Marcus Cannon at right tackle and Shaq Mason and Thuney at the right and left guard positions.
With Belichick “expected” to rein in the offense, with more ball-control, more physical play to coincide with a defense that might be the strength of the team, Thuney’s value is very high here.
If Belichick were to trade Thuney to a contender, in need of a top guard, the bonus there would not only be the draft picks but the ability to have more than $20 million to bring in a potential game-changer or two, i.e. pass rushing free agent Jadeveon Clowney and decent tight end.
The Patriots and Belichick have options with Thuney.
But with Cam Newton the probable starting quarterback, they also might have a shot at winning a lot more games now and we expected.
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.