Even if Tom Brady goes back to the New England Patriots, the door is open for Joe Thuney to depart via free agency.
New England is very calculated in who it hands out large contracts to and given the recent five-year, $45-million extension the Patriots gave Shaq Mason, another massive deal for an offensive guard is something Bill Belichick likely won’t have the appetite for. However, Thuney is worth the payday he is going to command.
Thuney, who has developed wonderfully under renowned offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, has maximized his impressive physical traits to become among the best blockers in the league.
Coming out in the 2016 draft, Thuney posted the following numbers at the combine:
- 4.95-second 40-yard dash (98th percentile for guards)
- 1.71-second 10-yard split (94th percentile)
- 110-inch broad jump (91st percentile)
- 7.47-second 3-cone drill (88th percentile)
- 4.54-second 20-yard shuttle (87th percentile)
Those athletic traits have led to him becoming an elite pass blocker and wonderful asset hitting blocks in space. Over the last two seasons, Thuney has taken 1,497 reps in pass protection and surrendered just 43 pressures and one sack.
After starting all 64 games for the Patriots since he was drafted, Thuney is durable, experienced and among the best at his position. There won’t be any shortage of suitors, although some of the most logical destinations (the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears) simply don’t have the cap space to commit the roughly $15 million per season Thuney is going to receive on the open market.
Let’s examine what teams are primed to make a run at the free-agent prize.
For the talent assembled on the roster last year in Miami, the Dolphins overachieved by winning five games in 2019. After claiming a 5-4 record over the last nine games of the season, the unexpected success is a testament to head coach Brian Flores and his ability to maximize the talent at his disposal. With three first-round selections and two second-round picks in the coming draft and a league-high $88 million in available salary-cap space, Flores’ roster is about to receive a massive influx of talent and Thuney should be among the top targets.
While Miami has immediate needs everywhere and is likely to invest an early first-round pick on a new franchise quarterback, the offensive line stands out as the top need. Despite having so much draft capital to invest, the Dolphins need to balance out their roster with proven veterans to offset all of the young players that will inevitably fill meaningful roles. Thuney would be a perfect anchor and building block for the interior offensive line.
With Chan Gailey now employed as the offensive coordinator, Miami’s offense is likely to feature a heavy dose screen passes and spread concepts. That style of play puts a heavy emphasis on the mobility of the offensive linemen to get out in space and connect with moving targets which is a strength of Thuney’s game.
The need for Thuney is obvious, the Dolphins have the cap space and Thuney is a perfect scheme fit. Given the familiarity Thuney should have with Flores from their time together in New England, Miami is a logical destination in nearly every way imaginable.
New York Jets
The New York Jets were among the most active teams this last offseason but they absolutely whiffed when it came to fortifying the offensive line in front of Sam Darnold as he entered his sophomore season. Luring Ryan Kalil out of retirement to play center turned out to be a disaster and the Kelechi Osemele debacle was embarrassing.
Not only did the failed efforts to improve the offensive line lead to a higher sack frequency for Darnold in Year 2, but Le’Veon Bell’s patient rushing style was not as effective with the steep dropoff in run blocking that he enjoyed in Pittsburgh after he kicked off the rust from missing a season.
Committing a chunk of the Jets’ $49 million in available cap space to Thuney makes perfect sense in making sure their most valuable offensive assets — Darnold and Bell — are provided the best opportunity to perform. There’s also the added bonus of prying him away from the Patriots and keeping him off the Dolphins within the division.
The general consensus is that this is a make-or-break season for general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia who have combined for a 9-22-1 record and consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC North in their two seasons together. With Graham Glasgow set to become a free agent, Detroit cannot afford to have any more holes on the roster and needs as many upgrades as they can find. Thuney would provide that.
Matthew Stafford played through a broken back in 2018 and missed the last half of the 2019 season due to non-displaced fractures in his upper thoracic spine. Making sure things are solidified up front for Stafford is critical for Detroit getting out of the NFC North basement and proving to ownership that the right mix of leadership is in place for sustainable success.
Like Flores, there is familiarity between Thuney and Patricia from their time together with the Patriots and the Lions’ would be wise to commit some of its $47 million in available cap space to improving the offensive line with a talent like Thuney.