With a 12pm deadline to designate players with the franchise tag looming, the Patriots announced they would use their tag on guard Joe Thuney, with a goal of working out a long-term extension. Thuney was widely expected to hit the open free agency market, where he would have been one of the top offensive linemen available. Instead, the Patriots will retain Thuney's rights.
Now, New England has three options. Let Thuney play out the season for just under $15 million, trade him to another team or use the extra time to give Thuney a contract extension that could lessen the cap hit. The team specified in their statement that a long-term pact was a goal. Per Miguel of PatsCap, the team was sitting around $20 million in space prior to the report. That leaves almost no room to work with and, with Tom Brady's future very much in question along with a number of other significant holes on the roster, there's still plenty of news to come.
Thuney is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and he should be tempting for other teams to trade for. With limited high-round draft picks, Thuney could be a significant piece to help the Patriots address a need for veteran weaponry to surround Tom Brady with. Or is the team just solidifying their protection for an inexperienced starter to take over for Brady? It's all still fluid.
What's clear is that it's unlikely that Thuney plays out the season on the franchise tag and that there are other more significant moves to come. For the time being, the team has retained one of their most valuable assets and will get more than a compensatory pick for him.