On paper, the 2018 New England Patriots offensive line is in pretty good shape. Recently acquired Trent Brown is all but certain to start at left tackle, shifting rookie Isaiah Wynn to the left guard position. Incumbents David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon will return to their respective starting positions. At the moment, it looks as though there’s no room for two-year starting left guard Joe Thuney.
While Thuney may be squeezed out of a starting job, he’s still an incredibly valuable part of this roster. There have been whispers that Thuney could be a surprise cut or trade bait, but letting Thuney go would be a bad idea. The New England Patriots need Joe Thuney, as his presence on the roster allows flexibility in 2018, and security in 2019 and beyond.
Joe Thuney Importance to the 2018 New England Patriots
The Best of the Rest
Every position in the National Football League is prone to injuries, but perhaps no positional grouping endures more physical abuse than the offensive line. Offensive linemen do the dirty work in the trenches, fending off monstrous human beings in order to provide support in the run game and keep the quarterback upright.
Expecting each of the five offensive line starters to remain healthy all season is asking the impossible. At least one of the five aforementioned starters will undergo some type of injury, and a backup will need to make a start.
Looking at the depth chart, Thuney is clearly the best backup of the bunch. Currently, the Patriots backup interior linemen are Ted Karras, James Ferentz, Matt Tobin, Luke Bowanko, and Jason King. Each one of these players has little to no experience, and each would struggle if forced to see significant time in the starting lineup.
The most important thing for the Patriots should be protecting 41-year old quarterback Tom Brady. If Brady goes down, the season is over. Carrying Thuney on the bench is the teams best insurance policy in the inevitable case of injury.
Questions Among the Starters
While the Patriots offensive line looks good on paper, there are still major questions that need to be answered, specifically at tackle. For one, newly acquired Trent Brown has never seen serious time at left tackle. While he’s played well in limited opportunities, he’s never done it for a full season.
Should Brown struggle, chances are Isaiah Wynn would shift over from left guard to left tackle, and Brown would be sent to the bench. Wynn should be more than capable of starting at left tackle, so nobody would worry if he needed to protect Brady’s blindside.
Additionally, right tackle Marcus Cannon has an extensive injury history. While each offensive lineman could miss time with injuries, Cannon almost certainly will. Since entering the NFL in 2011, Cannon has started all 16 games just once. If/When Cannon misses time, Brown will likely slide over to his natural right tackle and Wynn will move over to left tackle.
While Wynn can handle the left tackle position, the Patriots need Thuney to hold down left guard. Wynn’s versatility is his strongest asset, but it goes to waste if there isn’t somebody that can play his interior position. As long as the Patriots hold on to Thuney, they’ll have a capable starting left guard.
Looking Beyond 2018
While Thuney may see considerable bench time in 2018, that probably won’t be the case in 2019. Trent Brown and Shaq Mason will both be free agents following the 2018 season. While the team could probably sign Brown for reasonable money, Mason is as good as gone. The fourth-round guard is one of the better guards in the league and is in line for a massive payday the Patriots probably can’t match.
So long as the Patriots hold on to Thuney, they’ll have a solution for 2019. Thuney’s contract expires after the 2019 season, but he will be far more affordable to bring back. Even if the Patriots don’t bring Thuney back for 2020, they can draft a guard in 2019 to take the starting spot after Thuney departs in free agency.
Last Word on Joe Thuney
Joe Thuney is a solid starting guard who doesn’t have a clear path to the field. In spite of that, the Patriots should hold on to Thuney instead of trying to shop him for another player. Thuney drastically improves the offensive line depth, and is capable of starting should injury strike anywhere across the line. With Brady playing at 41, offensive line play is paramount to the success of the season.
Additionally, the Patriots will need to think about life beyond 2018. With Mason almost certain to leave for a larger payday, New England needs a starter for the 2019 season. Thuney has shown over the past two seasons that he’s capable of being that guy. Even if he’s not resigned,Thuney’s presence gives the Patriots an extra year to find a starter for 2020 and beyond.
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