The New England Patriots and franchise-tagged left guard Joe Thuney did not reach a contract extension by Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, which means Thuney is locked in to the $14.78 million tag for the 2020 NFL season.
So how does this affect Thuney's future with the team?
Thuney's position: Thuney, 27, is guaranteed the $14.78 million, which is an excellent contract for him considering that his total earnings in the NFL prior to this year were $3.2 million. Also, he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season, when he'll be entering his sixth NFL season and could find himself in position to land a lucrative long-term deal on the open market (from the Patriots or another team). The key for Thuney will be making it through the season healthy, as that's the risk he assumes by accepting the one-year franchise-tag term.
Patriots' position: Thuney is arguably the Patriots' best offensive lineman, so retaining him gives the line its best chance at success. However, absorbing a $14.78 million cap charge to do so is hefty; it is the second highest cap charge on the team behind reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore ($18.6 million). Thuney's high cap charge contributed to the team's limited space throughout most of the offseason, but the burden has been lessened after compensation grievances with Antonio Brown ($4 million) and Aaron Hernandez ($2.55 million) were settled recently and provided some much-needed breathing room. So while the high cap charge for Thuney isn't ideal for the team, it isn't handcuffing coach Bill Belichick's ability to make other moves.
Tying it together: It isn't a surprise the Patriots and Thuney didn't strike an extension, as the $14.78 million guaranteed salary put Thuney in a rare position of leverage. In similar situations across the NFL, a player often takes the franchise-tag salary, and then 120% of that figure (which would be the salary if he's tagged again next year), and uses that number as a starting point for guaranteed money in negotiations on a long-term deal. For Thuney, that would be in the range of $32 million. It was hard to imagine the Patriots extending to that level, especially with uncertainty on the NFL's salary cap because of the coronavirus pandemic. So instead, the sides now take a year-to-year approach in their working relationship, and anything is possible in the future.
While the franchise tag is often viewed as a negative by players, it is notable that Thuney's agent, Mike McCartney, represented quarterback Kirk Cousins as Cousins went year to year on the tag with Washington before ultimately hitting the open market and landing a lucrative fully-guaranteed, longer-term contract with the Minnesota Vikings. That reflects how McCartney doesn't necessarily view the franchise tag as a negative, as it allows players to get back to the market quicker.