By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - He's gone from pissed off to Pro Bowler in the span of eight weeks. Logan Mankins, honored Tuesday night with his third Pro Bowl selection, is one of the NFL's most intriguing stories. But because of the tight-lipped nature of the Patriots and the smiling reticence of their left guard to entertain questions, it's hard to pin down the dynamic between the Pats and their best offensive lineman. On Wednesday, Bill Belichick was asked about Mankins' impact since returning to the team inWeek 9, three weeks before he had to in order to be credited with a "season played" in 2010."He's been outstanding, on and off the field," Belichick said. "He brings a great attitude and work ethic, superior toughness to the field and to the football team and that unit. Just an outstanding performer, a smart guy who doesn't make any mistakes, plays hard, runpass, every down, from the snap to the whistle, from the first play to the last play. Very consistent player. Always has been. He's shown that this year; it doesn't matter whether it's a Friday practice or the fourth quarter or the first play of the game, he's very, very consistent. And good. Very good." So how does the loftypraise jibewith the fact Mankins is playing for 866,250 this season, is a likely free agent at the end of the season (CBA uncertainty prevents us from being, well, certain) and is on record as saying he wanted to be traded and hasn't said anything yet to indicate he'll be sticking around. Mankins dryly answered when asked if the uncertainty of his future has him playing harder. "Not really," he said. "I don't know if you ever watched any of our games, but I tend to play hard a majority of the time, so I don't think I'm playing for a contract right now."
Can the Patriots let a player like that storm off? Or merely walk away? Especially when aging but still useful left tackle Matt Light is headed toward free agency as well. Belichick parried by saying, "Right now, it's just about getting ready for Miami. There are a lot of other things we can talk about, but none of them apply at this particular time."The lay of the land, best as we can read it, is that there's a yawning disconnect between the football and business sides of things on Mankins. The Patriots value him. So much that they offered him a five-year deal that would have put him in the top-five highest paid players at his position. And while that may seem a little modest given that Belichick seems to feel he's as good as anybody, you have to remember Mankins was a restricted free agent this past offseason. He was under the Patriots' control but hoping to be paid as if he was on the open market. Now, it seems the tack being taken is to kill Mankins with kindness while driving a wedge between the player and his old-school agent, Frank Bauer.Bauer, in my opinion, screwed this deal up royally. Instead of the 3.2 million tender Mankins could have been playing under, or the 40 million or so multityear deal he could have signed, Mankins is making less than a million and currently unprotected long-term if he were to suffer a catastrophic injury. Proclamations made by Bauer that the Patriots had "totally lost" Mankins seem absurd now. What remains to be seen is whether Mankins is willing to stay, or is just smiling through his situation as he waits to doff his cap to New England, hug his teammates and coaches, whip off the front office, and head to free agency.