Trent Brown is returning to the New England Patriots. But he most likely will not be rejoining his former running mate, Joe Thuney.
Thuney, the Patriots’ longtime starting left guard, is an impending free agent, and New England has made “no progress” with his camp on a potential contract extension, according to a report Tuesday from Albert Breer of The MMQB.
The Patriots have had “very minimal” contract talks with Thuney since placing the franchise tag on the 28-year-old last offseason, per Breer’s report.
“The Trent Brown trade is another step towards Thuney hitting the market,” Breer tweeted.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter also reported the Patriots are not expected to use the franchise tag on Thuney for a second straight season. Doing so would have put him on their books for $17.7 million in 2021.
A Thuney return was unlikely even before the Patriots reacquired Brown, their starting left tackle in 2018, in a yet-to-be-finalized trade with the Las Vegas Raiders. He’s set to enter free agency as the top available guard — a status solidified when the Washington Football Team franchised Brandon Scherff on Monday — and almost certainly will be out of New England’s price range.
Salary cap site Spotrac projected Thuney will command a five-year, $76.8 million deal worth $15.3 million annually. He earned $14.8 million on the franchise tag in 2020.
Thuney has been the Patriots’ most consistent and reliable offensive lineman over the course of his NFL career, starting every game since he entered the league as a 2016 third-round draft pick. The majority of those starts came at left guard, but he also filled in at center this past season while usual starter David Andrews was sidelined.
Thuney has led all Patriots players in offensive snaps played in four of his five pro seasons, never playing less than 96 percent.
Barring another addition, New England is likely to shift one of its 2020 starting tackles to Thuney’s left guard spot this offseason. Right tackle Mike Onwenu almost exclusively played right guard in college at Michigan and started games at both guard spots as a rookie. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn has minimal NFL experience inside (one start last October) but played both tackle and guard at Georgia.
Brown has played both left tackle (for New England in 2018) and right tackle (for Las Vegas and San Francisco) at the NFL level.
The Patriots also have contractual decisions to make on Wynn and right tackle Marcus Cannon. The team must decide in the coming months whether to exercise Wynn’s fifth-year option — which would guarantee him a salary north of $10 million in 2022 — and whether to retain the soon-to-be 34-year-old Cannon, who’s set to carry a $9.6 million cap hit as he returns from his COVID-19 opt-out.