New England Patriots fans should start preparing themselves for the departure of their team’s best offensive lineman.

Patriots left guard Joe Thuney is hitting free agency in March, and unless New England decides to pony up and pay up, they’re going to lose him. To complicate matters further, the Patriots already signed right guard Shaq Mason to a long-term contract in 2018 before he hit free agency. The team probably won’t want to pay two guards big money, and Thuney likely will demand more on the open market than Mason received by signing an extension.

So, the Patriots probably need to start planning to replace Thuney. The top option on the roster is 2019 fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt. The Patriots selected the Denmark native out of Arkansas last spring. He missed his rookie season after being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

Froholdt struggled from a pass-protection standpoint in the preseason, letting up a sack and four hurries in 214 total snaps. He also was penalized four times. Oddly, Froholdt was fantastic as a pass blocker in college. He allowed just five total pressures in the entire 2018 season, per Pro Football Focus, and didn’t allow a sack in his final two college seasons.

He at least should be in the running for the starting left guard job this spring and summer, barring a Thuney re-signing. His top competition is 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, who was drafted as a tackle, unrestricted free agents Ted Karras and James Ferentz and restricted free agent Jermaine Eluemunor.

Taking a major leap in his second season is crucial for Froholdt. Based on his preseason showing, Froholdt likely would have been a healthy scratch for most of the 2019 season if he hadn’t been hurt.

Froholdt possesses above average height, strength, agility, explosion and speed for an interior offensive lineman, based on his pre-draft testing. He does, however, have very short arms for his position, as you can see in the spider graph below from MockDraftable.

Source: MockDraftable.com

It will be interesting to watch Froholdt’s development this spring and summer. After missing last season, he’ll need to impress in OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the preseason.

Other hidden Patriots: CB D’Angelo Ross, WR Quincy Adeboyejo, WR Gunner Olszewski, OT Yodny Cajuste, QB Cody Kessler, FB Jakob Johnson, S Malik Gant, RB Damien Harris, OT Korey Cunningham, OL Hjalte Froholdt, WR Devin Ross, DE Tashawn Bower, CB Joejuan Williams

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images