Patriots guard Joe Thuney says he’s happy to back in New England this season, but that’s the extent of his commitment as of now.
The Patriots placed the franchise tag on Thuney this offseason, which allowed the team to keep — or trade — him at a rate based on the top-five NFL contracts for his position. When the organization announced it had designated Thuney as a franchise player, the statement said the tag would allow for “more time to try to reach the goal of a long-term agreement.”
So, what does Thuney think?
“There’s a whole business aspect to it,” he said Wednesday. “It kind of is what it is. I’m really fortunate to be able to play here and excited to be back with my teammates.”
Thuney said he didn’t really know what to expect from the tag and credited his agent Mike McCartney for helping him navigate the situation. He ended up signing the one-year, $14.7 million deal, as the two parties did not reach an agreement for an extension prior to the July 15 deadline.
Still, Thuney had nothing but praise the Patriots, who drafted him in the third round in 2016. He hasn’t missed a game in each of his four seasons in New England.
Speaking to reporters via WebEx Wednesday, Thuney seemed to be in a buoyant mood, as he smiled and shared his excitement for the upcoming season. He also noted he will be earning his MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, with the semester ending Thursday.
Asked if his cheery feelings are an indication that he would like to stay in New England for the long haul, Thuney quickly shot down that line of thinking.
“What a stretch,” he laughed. “I love being around the guys. I think we got a great locker room. You know, you’re stuck in quarantine for several months and everyone’s separate, you’re just doing Zoom meetings, so it’s good to see everyone again.”
Pressed once more if he’s optimistic about the possibility of a long-term deal, Thuney, taking a page out of coach Bill Belichick’s book, reiterated his focus is on this year.
“I’m just focused on this training camp, trying to get better day in and day out, and control the things that I can control,” he said. “Right now, that’s just trying to get better a little bit today and a little bit tomorrow.”
Patriots third-year linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley said he’s been in touch with former team captain Dont’a Hightower, one of the eight Patriots to opt out of the 2020 season.
“We’re always talking,” Bentley said. “He’s definitely on my list of people to talk to, whether it be about leadership or anything. Along with him, we’ve had a lot of great vets that I have been surrounded with over my past two years since I have been with New England.”
Despite only being 23 years old, Bentley now finds himself as one of the more experienced linebackers in the room. Not only will the linebacker corps be without Hightower, but three key members of the “Boogeymen” also departed this offseason: Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, and Kyle Van Noy all signed deals elsewhere.
Draft picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings will likely be in the mix for playing time.
“We have a lot of new guys, so you have to step in whatever role fits you best,” Bentley said. “I’m a big advocate for not forcing the leadership role. Leadership finds you. It finds you and you react with that. You never force the leadership position, you let it happen. I’m a big fan of that.”
In the first few days of training camp, Bentley said the group has begun building relationships and working on their communication. In his downtime, he called himself “a little football junkie,” one that enjoys watching film from “old school players,” both the greats and those who didn’t have much spotlight.
Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones says he believes players were given enough time to make a decision about the upcoming season, though he acknowledged there was some dissatisfaction with the league for moving up the opt-out deadline.
Jones said the first few days of training camp have allowed players to see the changes implemented at Gillette Stadium and gain an understanding of how things will operate under new health protocols.
“As far as being at the facility, being in meetings, things like that, they’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that we’re safe in those regards.” Jones said.
Back in July, Jones seemed to have some doubts about the viability of an NFL season, tweeting: “I don’t know who needs to hear this but you can’t social distance football…” His message solicited replies from Hightower and safety Patrick Chung, both of whom opted out.
Jones said Wednesday his tweet was more of a response to some of the rules announced by the league at the time. For example, he felt there was “no point” to nixing jersey swaps when players are going to be out on the field together anyway.
“When you’re out there on the field and when you’re going in camp, there’s no social distancing to that,” he said.
The opt-out deadline has been finalized for Thursday at 4 p.m., and, despite some initial questions, it appears Jones is in.
“I’m here, ready to work,” he said.
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