Joe Thuney is going to get paid rather handsomely, and it doesn’t seem like that next big contract will be coming from the New England Patriots.
The longtime Patriots offensive lineman, who played a vast majority of his snaps at guard but also showed the versatility to play either center or tackle, is set to hit the open market when the new league year begins March 17.
The two-time Super Bowl champion, who has shown both reliability and dependability during his five years in New England, is not expected to return to the Patriots, though. And NESN.com has explained just that in a thorough series centering on Patriots free agents.
With that said, there are many other NFL teams that likely are salivating at the thought of landing the best interior lineman available. After all, Thuney, a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, started each of the 80 games he played during five seasons in New England and was named a Second-Team All-Pro following the 2019 campaign.
Anyway, here are a few teams (not including the Patriots) who would make the most sense for the 28-year-old Thuney:
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have a few big needs entering free agency, but improving the offensive line at all three positions — tackle, guard and center — should be priority No. 1. It is imperative to do so with second-year quarterback Justin Herbert being the organization’s most important asset. The Chargers have more than $24 million in cap space, per OverTheCap.com, and benefit from having a quarterback on his rookie contract. LA is far more talented than its 7-9 record in 2020 suggests, meaning the Chargers could be attractive to Thuney, too.
Similar to the Chargers protecting Herbert, the Bengals bringing in offensive line help to protect 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow should be the most crucial box they check this offseason. Thuney certainly would help. The Bengals gave up 48 sacks in 2020, sixth-most in the league, with Burrow sacked 32 times before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 11. The Bengals have the financial room, as well, as they have just shy of $41 million in cap space, per OverTheCap.com.
New York Jets
The Jets have plenty of needs — running back, receiver, cornerback, offensive line, etc. — with head coach Robert Saleh entering his first year in New York. Thuney would be an easy plug-and-play starter who could give the Jets a dominant left side with second-year offensive tackle Mekhi Becton. Oh yeah, and while the Jets might not know what they’re doing with the No. 2 overall pick and/or QB Sam Darnold, they’re attractive to free agents since they have the second-most cap space ($67 million) in the NFL.
New York Giants
Giants head coach Joe Judge is very familiar with Thuney thanks to the Patriots connection, and New York needs some help on the interior. Left guards Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux combined to allow 50 total pressures in 2020, per Pro Football Focus, and each had run-blocking grades below 60.0. With quarterback Daniel Jones still on his rookie contract and a promising young running back in Saquon Barkley, it’d be wise to upgrade up front. The Giants would have to maneuver some things, however, as they’re projected $11 million over the cap.
The Dolphins were successful in bringing in one ex-Patriot lineman, Ted Karras, during free agency last offseason. And with Karras back on the open market, they could do the same this time around with Thuney. After all, head coach Brian Flores, like Judge, is more than familiar with the versatile lineman than most coaches. The Dolphins have the cap space ($22 million) and the need after Miami guards allowed 37 total pressures in 2020, per Pro Football Focus.
Priority No. 1 for the Broncos this offseason should be figuring out their quarterback situation with Drew Lock, but it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see Denver in the running for help on the interior line. Denver is seventh in the league in terms of cap space, possessing more than $30 million, per OverTheCap.com. If the Broncos want to give Lock another shot, perhaps allowing him more time to develop, bringing in the best lineman available would be a way to help.