In a surprising turn of events, the New England Patriots are reportedly expected to use their franchise tag on starting left guard Joe Thuney, who was set to be of the most highly coveted offensive lineman in free agency, which starts on Wednesday, March 18. The Patriots will now have to pay Thuney $14.7 million for the 2020 season, which is steep number for an offensive guard, especially on a team that has right guard Shaq Mason tied up in a five-year, $45 million contract.
However, it seems that the Patriots may have a trick up their sleeve.
The possibility exists for New England to tag and trade Thuney, according to The Athletic's Jeff Howe.
The Patriots haven't used their franchise tag since 2015, and seems that they may be using it this time around not to retain a player, but to get compensation for a pending free agent.
Thuney was reportedly expected to have 20 teams interested in him when he hit the market, which may be why New England is exploring the idea of trading him rather than letting him walk. Keep an eye on division rivals like the Dolphins and Jets, who are both in the market for a guard. In the events that the Patriots can't find a trade suitor, then they will have to deal with one of the best offensive lineman in the NFL taking up a good chunk of their 2020 salary cap.
Tagging Thuney also provides the team some flexibility as they await Tom Brady's decision. If Brady opts to stay with the Patriots, then New England can aggressively try to shop Thuney. But if Brady signs elsewhere, then having Thuney can sure up their offensive line and give more protection to a young, inexperienced QB.
With Thuney being tagged, the Patriots are projected to have $5.4 million in available cap space when free agency opens, according to Boston Sports Journal's Miguel Benzan. Because of that, there's a real chance the team could try to extend or restructure some player contracts to free up more cap space.