Patriots

Bedard: Don’t be completely shocked if Patriots tag Joe Thuney again – Belichick boxed himself into a corner

(Adam Richins for BSJ)

Today — the start of the franchise tag period — is like the first official day of spring for the NFL. There's snow on the ground, so it's tough to believe it, but free agency and the start of the 2021 league year is coming on March 17.

It's also a national holiday, too. It's the time where millions of football nerds, who have spent three months telling you about how their favorite Team X can afford and will sign Fantasy Stud Y ... and then Stud Y is slapped with the franchise tag (as most good players are) and never even sniffs the free-agent market.

It's a tradition unlike any other, really.

For Patriots fans, their pipe dreams of signing receivers Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay and Chris Godwin, along with tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will in all likelihood (nothing can be ruled out) go up in smoke any day now when their teams place the franchise (compensation) or transition (right to match) tag on those players.

The Patriots have a couple of interesting decisions about the tag for themselves in Joe Thuney and David Andrews. You'd think the Patriots would be able to come sort of agreement with Andrews that he'll give the Patriots the chance to match any offer he receives, so he's not a huge concern, but a tag wouldn't be a terrible idea.

And then there's Thuney, who surprisingly received the tag last year at $14.781 million.

If you think it's obvious Bill Belichick won't tag Thuney again this year — the price tage will be $17.7372 million this time around at a 20 percent increase — then you believe one of the following: Belichick will pull off some sort of Jedi Mind Trick tag-and-trade on some schlub GM, or Belichick will admit he made a huge error last spring tagging Thuney.

Both are fantasyland, to some extent.

Belichick has basically boxed himself into a corner after inexplicably tagging Thuney last year, in what might have been an attempt — a dumb one that I refuse to believe actually happened — to entice Tom Brady to return. (Uh, how about just offering Brady Thuney's money in addition to Brady's $14 million reported offer?)

Belichick could have let Thuney go, pocketed the $15 million (or perhaps applied it to an offer to QB Marcus Mariota and a tight end last offseason) and had another third-round pick in this year's draft for trade ammunition/restocking the roster.

This time around, Belichick has four options:

• Tag Thuney again in hopes of reaching a long-term extension, which is problematic in a few ways we'll get into;

• Tag Thuney again in hopes of trading him, which is also problematic in a few ways we'll get into;

• Allow Thuney to become a free agent. This means GM Belichick would be admitting he lit $15 million on fire last year, and won't receive that third-round pick compensation until the 2022 draft;

• Tag Thuney again and be OK with him playing for $33 million the past two seasons with nothing to show for it in the future, a move that will likely be explained again by Patriots loyalists as Belichick seeing that this team is going to be close and they're going to go for it again with Thuney because the offense is going to be X, Y or Z and they need double down on the line to do that and Thuney could also play every position, and you can't really criticize going for another Super Bowl, so no one will criticize Belichick again for making the same foolish move.

Well, which one is it going to be?

Let's break down those options:

TAG AND EXTENSION OPTION (15 percent chance)

First of all, Thuney's agent is Mike McCartney, who is a whiz at the tag and fully embraces it. He's the one who orchestrated Kirk Cousins' multiple tags in Washington to the point the team could no longer do it and Cousins signed the first fully guaranteed deal with the Vikings. McCartney loves the tag, and he had Thuney sign his (guaranteeing it and giving the player leverage) three days after New England's decision.

From there, more issues arise.