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Thuney could be traded for draft picks by the end of the week. Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports
The Patriots find themselves in a bit of a quandary at this point in their contract negotiations with Joe Thuney. Committing their franchise tag to him prevented him from hitting the open market, where they certainly would have lost him. However, doing so was costly. The team has reportedly made little progress in talks with Thuney's camp on a long-term extension, as the fifth year guard is almost certainly demanding top of the market money after being denied his clear chance at that type of deal by the team's usage of the tag. With Shaq Mason already signed to a big money deal, committing that kind of money would mean investing an unusual percentage of the team's salary cap on it's guard duo.

With all those factors in mind, veteran reporter Mike Reiss suggested in his Sunday column that Thuney could be a candidate to be traded this draft weekend. Reiss's reporting that the team's remain far apart in negotiations was the key nugget from his story. Signing Thuney to a long term contract, even one that pays him at or near the top of the market, would actually lower his 2020 cap hit from the $14.8 million charge he currently holds on the franchise tag. With that outcome apparently not likely any time soon and the team hurting for cap space, trading Thuney for additional draft capital makes sense.

Such a move would hurt in the short term for sure, as Thuney's started every game capably at left guard since his arrival as a rookie in 2016. However, the current negotiations suggest the alternative is Thuney playing out this season under the tag before leaving as a coveted free agent next offseason, with the Patriots gaining merely a 2022 compensatory pick back in return for losing him. Compared to that outcome, turning his loss into extra draft currency this weekend is attractive. In fact, the team likely sees it as an opportunity to fill some valuable gaps in their draft board; 64 picks between their picks at 23 and 87 and less importantly 47 picks between 125 and 172.

Who could step up to the plate and give the Patriots the kind of picks worth making a deal? Thuney's situation as a franchised tag player means any team trading for him most have the cap space to fit his current $14.8 million hit. They also most be ready to commit top of the market money to keep Thuney on a multi-year deal, making him instantly one of his new team's highest paid players. This eliminates many cash strapped teams from realistic consideration, with some other teams having the cap space but lacking the need for an expensive upgrade at guard. These five teams make the most logical sense, as they all have both a glaring need at guard and enough cap space to fit Thuney's new deal.

Cincinnati Bengals

This makes a lot of sense to me. The Bengals have picks at the top of the second (33) and third (65) round that will have a lot of appeal to the Patriots. Acquiring either one of those picks would be exactly what the doctor ordered to fill the gap between 23 and 87, giving the Patriots that much more firepower to move around and add young talent to an aging roster in need of some new blood. From the Bengals perspective, trading for Thuney makes all the sense in the world, although you'd obviously rather part with 65 than 33 to get it done. With Joe Burrow almost certain to be the number one pick, the Bengals will be in scramble mode to improve their horrendous offensive line before they put their new franchise quarterback out there behind it. Acquiring a reliable proven stud at left guard like Thuney makes all the sense in the world for a team in this position. The Bengals surprisingly don't currently have the cap space to fit Thuney's tag, but they will once they trade or release Andy Dalton and his $17.7 million cap charge. Doing so would allow them to fit Thuney's tag comfortably, and the team has the long term space to fit Thuney's new deal without sweating.

Detroit Lions

The Lions make sense due to the familiarity of their Matt Patricia led coaching staff with Thuney. Patricia has valued intelligence, toughness and reliability from his players, qualities that Thuney embodied during his four years with the Patriots. For a coach still seeking to establish his type of culture and roster, acquiring a proven on and off the field stud makes sense. It helps that said stud plays a major position of need, as Detroit has holes at both guard positions after losing Graham Glasgow in free agency. With current left guard Joe Dahl better suited to a utility backup role and the rest of the options on the roster unappealing, adding Thuney to fill one of those two spots makes a lot of sense. With the 35 and 67th picks in store, Detroit has the capitol to land Thuney and, with $28.5 million in cap space, they have more than enough room to fit him into their books.

Los Angeles Chargers

Here's another team that's been actively trying to fix a problematic offensive line. The Chargers have already been aggressive in that regard, remaking the right side of the line by signing free agent RT Bryan Bulaga and shipping aging LT Russell Okung to Carolina for stud RG Trai Turner. The left side still needs work though, with disappointing draft picks Dan Feeney and Forest Lamp currently slated to duke it out for the starting job at guard. With $24.3 million in cap space, the Chargers can afford the high cost of acquiring Thuney, who will dramatically upgrade the pass protection for whichever quarterback the Chargers wind up drafting, this year or next. The Chargers picks at 37 and 71 are enticing from a Patriots perspective.

Minnesota Vikings

This one is a little further down the list of probabilities due to the Vikings cap situation. Minnesota's bloated books have dominated their offseason, leading to the departure of veterans Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Linval Joseph, Evander Griffen from the defense. Finances also factored into the trade of disgruntled receiver Stefon Diggs. Despite all that attrition, the Vikings still would need to open up just under three million in space to fit Thuney's tag number. That's doable by shedding a few smaller salaries, or by sending some smaller salaries back to the Patriots in the trade. The offensive line continues to be a weakness for what seems like the umpteenth year in a row in Minnesota, as the Vikings have the uninspiring trio of Pat Elflein, Dakota Dozier and 2019 fourth rounder Dru Samia competing for work alongside Garrett Bradberry on the interior. Thuney would be a huge upgrade and is an excellent scheme fit for a zone blocking Vikings offense that values athleticism from its linemen. The 58th pick would likely be the main compensation coming back in any deal sending Thuney to the Vikings.

Miami Dolphins

I am sure Bill Belichick would prefer to not trade Thuney to a division rival, but I don't think he would blink at doing so if the compensation made sense. Rumored to be one of Thuney's suitors had he reached the market this spring, Miami has glaring needs all over their offensive line and the cap space ($34 million) to absorb Thuney's cap number without breaking a sweat. It would take a whopper of an offer to get Belichick to send a player of Thuney's caliber to a division rival, but Miami is loaded with plenty of picks to blow him away with an offer if they choose to do so. The Dolphins have three picks (39, 56, 70) that would appeal to the Patriots, plus plenty of picks in 2021 should the Patriots seek to bolster next years haul instead with a Thuney trade. Stranger things have happened, but Miami would likely be eager to acquire Thuney if Belichick got them on the line.

Ned Brady 4/21/2020 08:04:00 PM Edit
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