FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots traded in toughness and talent for cap space, a tight end and an undisclosed draft pick on Tuesday.
The stunning deal sending Logan Mankins -- the team’s Pro Bowl left guard and a player emblematic of stoic toughness that every NFL team wants to convey -- is headed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The news was first reported by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports 1.
The first question that strikes is the most pertinent: Why?
TIGHT END NEED
The Patriots are going to get back a 6-4, 220-pound tight end named Tim Wright. Undrafted out of Rutgers, the converted wide receiver had 54 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns. Here’s Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith lauding Wright last week.
With the Patriots rolling out a still recovering Rob Gronkowski, a just-injured Michael Hoomanawanui and converted tackle Steve Maneri at tight end, there was a need. It’s been a need since the offseason, though. The Patriots passed on doing anything about it during the draft and also turned their noses up to injured veterans Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley. Wright will be the mobile tight end that can line up as a wideout, classic tight end or in the slot. Ideally.
Mankins’ 2011 contract (an agreement reached after months of entertaining squabbling) had him down to make $6.25 million this year and $6.75 million each of the next two years. The Patriots will save that money against their cap but will still be on the hook for $4 million cap hits this season and next season (the remnants of Mankins signing bonus for which the team had not been charged). With the $6 million in savings, the Patriots can now more seriously entertain getting a long-term deal done for a player of their choosing, say . . . Darrelle Revis. When deals like this are made, virtually everyone’s initial reaction is to be stunned that an iconic player can be dealt for some undrafted guy who’s been in the league for 11 minutes. But the reality is that every player -- regardless how much a fabric of the team he seems -- has a hard value. Mankins is no longer getting better at 32. Even if he’s worth paying $6.25 million to this year, he might not be worth paying $6.75 million in 2015. Moving him now and getting something in return is preferable to releasing him outright next league year and taking a $4 million cap hit with nothing in return. I’m not saying Tim Wright is going to bring the same on-field value (though a source told me Wright will be "a great fit"), but bringing back a player shaves the overall loss that loomed.
Logan Mankins was easily one of my favorite Patriots both for his on-field play, what he represented and the easy, soft-spoken, approachable frankness in the locker room. He was not as good last year as he was in the past. His penalties were down a tad (six flags after seven in 2012 and nine in 2011), but there were key plays on which the middle of the Patriots offensive line got turned inside out. One of those occasions was in the AFC Championship game. I won’t be convinced that Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly or Josh Kline is going to be better than Mankins, but the dropoff -- to the Patriots, at least -- is acceptable in light of the salary money saved. Nobody is saying Mankins can’t play anymore -- least of all the Patriots. The Bucs don’t do the deal and accept the salary if they think he can’t play. Both sides have to feel like they won.
The Patriots have made roster moves in the past that drop out of the sky like a meteor. Many times. The immediate fallout revolves around what the team will miss. Tom Brady has said over and over and over, that mental toughness is going to be what decides how far this team goes. Nobody is more mentally tough than Mankins. Brady’s also said that a team has to be able to run it when the opposition knows a run is coming. Mankins is a damn road-grader. Leadership matters. Hard to find a better or more positive leader than Mankins. Do I like the move? No. I hate it. Do I understand the reasons for it? Yes I do. Do I think they should have drafted a tight end to avoid being caught short? Yes. It’s all tied together.