Joe Thuney's accolades might be arriving too late for his legacy

Joe Thuney is an exemplary performer up front for the Chiefs, but given his age, you have to wonder what post-career accolades will come his way.
Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs
Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs / David Eulitt/GettyImages

In a perfect world, Joe Thuney would be five years younger. Or at least the conversation would have started five years prior.

As it is, Thuney, the All-Pro left guard for the defending Super Bowl champs of the last two seasons, is becoming a household name for NFL fans. He's regarded as one of the single greatest pass protectors in the game, and he showcases his generous talents in front of primetime audiences several times each season—against the very best efforts opponents can offer.

Thuney has been celebrated, as such, with plenty of accolades in recent years. He's earned Pro Bowl nods and All-Pro mentions. He's been voted among the very best players in the NFL, and he's a regular name found atop positional rankings when describing the best offensive linemen in the National Football League.

Still, in a perfect world...

Joe Thuney is an exemplary performer up front for the Kansas City Chiefs, but given his age, you have to wonder what post-career accolades will come his way.

Here's the thing about Joe Thuney: He's been an elite pass protector and one of the league's best offensive linemen since 2018. Unfortunately, the aforementioned acclaim has only come his way over the last two seasons—as if he needed to put in more time (or wait for more people to notice) before finding his due. And that's what makes his legacy such an interesting conversation.

Overlooked with the Patriots

Rewind back to 2016 when the New England Patriots selected Thuney in the third round out of N.C. State at No. 78 overall. From his first official week as an NFL player, Thuney was a starting above-average pass blocker for a contender—a man who would never miss a single game until 7 years from that first NFL season.

Thuney's first three seasons in New England were memorable ones, and he would go on to become the first player to start three Super Bowls in his first three seasons in the league. He helped Tom Brady and company win two of those three Super Bowl appearances. He also proved himself to be as reliable as any NFL player out there by logging 500 more snaps at his position than anyone else since entering the league.

It was in that third season that Thuney's game went to the next level and he began to truly turn heads around the NFL. While he was a member of the 2016 NFL All-Rookie team, his work in front of Brady on a yearly contender finally broke through and received league-wide acclaim in 2018.

According to Pro Football Focus, Thuney's pass-blocking score of 87.2 that year marked him as one of the NFL's best. Thuney would go on to own three of the six best pass-blocking scores over the next six seasons.

After Thuney's contract year for the Pats in 2019, he finally received his first real piece of hardware with a second-team All-Pro nod. New England would respond by placing the franchise tag on him to keep him from escaping in free agency. Thuney would answer with another solid season, but as things in New England fell apart with a 7-9 record, the spotlight fell away.

Thuney would leave five seasons in New England with a lone second-team All-Pro honor to show for his elite efforts in those five full seasons with two Super Bowl titles.

Kansas City finally brings some hardware

We all know the rest of the story as members of Chiefs Kingdom. In the spring of 2021, general manager Brett Veach set out to remake an abysmal offensive line with the force of a freight train in both free agency and the draft. He publicly chased left tackle Trent Williams while convincing Thuney to sign a five-year deal in the hopes of protecting Patrick Mahomes with the best left side in the game.

While Williams remained with San Francisco, Veach would go on to trade for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and add rookies center Creed Humphrey and guard Trey Smith in the draft, giving K.C. an almost completely new line up front. Just like that, Thuney was the elder statesman with championship experience on whom a younger line would depend. And it was here that Thuney would finally receive his due.

Even his first season with the Chiefs was largely ignored as other linemen received credit for their successes as well, but the league's award machines are making up for lost time with Thuney these days. Thuney has garnered his first two Pro Bowl votes in the last two seasons, and he's been honored as an All-Pro twice in that same time by the Associated Press.

Going forward, the Chiefs are chasing an NFL record third consecutive title and another strong season from Thuney is bound to earn the same awards once again.

Is it too little, too late?

Any discussion of Thuney at the present time will bring about a chorus of agreements about his greatness. The problem is that these chants didn't start sooner, and that might be the difference between long-term glory in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or being known as a very good player who enjoyed a lot of team success.

The truth is that Thuney is arguably the best pass blocker in the game today and is doing his best to lay claim to the title of best guard in the game today. He's as reliable as any player around with 129 regular season starts in the last 8 seasons. He's also showcased incredible versatility by starting multiple games at center when David Andrews went down in New England or stepping outside as a left tackle when injuries have occurred.

The downside is that Thuney is going to turn 32 years old this season and, at some point, age catches up with every player. Does Thuney have enough seasons in him (and interest) to pursue a longer list of accolades that would help his enshrinement case? Therein lies a real debate.

Of course, some of this could have been settled if we'd just started the conversation when we were supposed to—five years earlier than we did. Instead, Thuney has taken the frustrating path walked by Mitchell Schwartz before him as an overlooked legend who was one of the league's best players for a lot longer than most NFL fans will ever realize.