Curran: Mankins holds hammer over owners


Curran: Mankins holds hammer over owners

By Tom E. Curran Patriots InsiderFollow @tomecurran
Is Logan Mankins' latest stand just an idle roll of the dice as he walks out of the casino? Or will he go all in on his request to be somehow compensated in the settlement of Brady vs. The NFL ?As one of the 10 plaintiffs in the Brady vs. The NFL case, Mankins has been told he's entitled to something. He, as well as Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, are reportedly asking for either 10 million or removal of their franchise tag and unrestricted free agency. The other plaintiffs - Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees included - will also be seeking something in return for settling the suit. What exactly they're requesting hasn't yet been determined. (UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Mankins has not yet requested a financial settlement "so far.")Mankins' situation is different from the rest. He's one of the two best guards in the NFL and has been paid, frankly, like a scrub. He feels he's been betrayed by Patriots ownership. Could Mankins hold up a settlement, ratification of the new CBA, the chance to return his 1,800 or so union brethren to work and restore jobs and pay for the workaday folks affected by this lockout just so he can get a pound of flesh back from the Krafts? We'll find out in the next 24 hours. Quick rehash of Mankins' position. By the end of the 2009 season, he was enraged that the Patriots handed out contract extensions to other players after having told him they weren't doing extensions because of the looming lockout. When he missed out on unrestricted free agency because of the pre-lockout rule restricting players with five or fewer accrued seasons from hitting the market, he grew more angry. He refused to sign his restricted free agent tender, raged against the Krafts for betraying him and vowed never to play in Foxboro again. The Patriots slashed his tender offer from 3.16 million to 1.54. He still didn't report and ultimately played nine games for the Patriots making about 900,000. The Patriots have franchised Mankins for the 2011 season. He'll make over 10 million but still hasn't signed his franchise tender offer. This is his play to get out of having to do so. Looking at it from his side, he's hitting ownership in general, and the Krafts in particular, where it hurts. He's keeping them from making money by holding up business. And, after the Krafts held the hammer and used it on him for the past two years, Mankins has the hammer now. Until the Brady case is satisfied and rolled into the so-called "global settlement" between players and owners, nobody can vote on ratification of the deal. The players aimed to get that vote done Tuesday or Wednesday. And until the players vote, it can't go to the owners for ratification on Thursday. From ground level with lawyers whispering in his ear that now's the time to make the Krafts pay and get back the money he was jobbed out of, it must seem very attractive to Mankins. He can claim it's more about retribution than money and -- given he's turned his back on millions so far because he hasn't liked the offers -- I'd tend to believe him. But Mankins is also a tremendous teammate. He returned to the team last November earlier than he had to and was fully embraced. Those players and the rest of the league are in limbo currently and he's part of the reason why. Can he stand that? Part of me believes the owners should justgivethe guy his 10 million and move on. You're already on the plus side, it's not coming out of the Krafts' pockets and Mankins is still franchised. But the fact that Mankins wasn't screwed out of a new contract simply by the Krafts but by the rules of the last CBA that Mankins' union brethren agreed to makes me think he should swallow it. But, in the end, the Krafts used the hammer on Mankins when they had it. Now that it's changed hands, it will be fascinating to see how Mankins uses it. Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Butler, Brown set to square off again in AFC title game

Butler, Brown set to square off again in AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The general consensus has been that when it comes to defending Antonio Brown, or any No. 1 receiver for that matter, the Patriots have two options: Use their top corner Malcolm Butler in man-to-man coverage or double-team him.

There are benefits to each. Butler has the speed an quickness to effectively mirror Brown's routes. Meanwhile, Logan Ryan has found recent success in teaming up with teammates to slow down top options like Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, who was the target when Devin McCourty broke up a fourth-quarter pass that resulted in a Ryan interception last week. 

Both the Steelers and the Patriots seemed to indicate that they knew which way Bill Belichick will lean this weekend. 

"[I] assume maybe that [Butler] will follow AB around," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He’s a guy that really has just come into the role of being pretty much a shutdown corner."

"[Butler] takes this as a big challenge," Patriots defensive captain Dont'a Hightower said. "We obviously know what Antonio Brown is. He’s arguably the best wide receiver in the league. We know what kind of matchup threat he poses. We expect Malcolm to take advantage of that, and I know he’s ready to rise up to that challenge." 

But Brown -- named a First-Team All-Pro this season after reeling in 106 passes for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns -- has the ability to make one singular plan of attack obsolete, eventually. The Patriots will have to throw different looks at him to keep him guessing, keep Roethlisberger thinking, and keep their connection somewhat under control.

Here are a few of the options . . . 


In Week 7 against the Steelers, this seemed to be the coverage of choice for the Patriots. They used Butler to shadow Brown all over the field for much of the game while one safety patrolled the deep middle portion of the field.

The third-year corner saw nine targets sent his way while in coverage of Brown. Five were caught for 94 yards.

Though the numbers looked pretty good for Brown fantasy owners, Butler had one of his stronger games of the season, making an interception in the end zone while draped all over his man. That was followed up by a celebrattion that mocked Brown's staple touchdown dance.

Brown and Butler have a relationship after seeing each other over the last two seasons and shooting a Visa commerical together earlier this year, and he sounded fired up to go against Brown again this weekend.

"Most definitely I respect that guy," Butler said of Brown this week. "Great player obviously, and (I) just love to compete and he loves to compete also."

Though Butler found himself on what looked like an island in plenty of situations back in Week 7, the Patriots also had their deep safeties (McCourty and Duron Harmon) keep a close eye on Brown as well.

But on Brown's longest catch of the game, a 51-yarder over the middle of the field, having a safety there didn't mean much due to a smart play-design by offensive coordinator Todd Haley. 

Brown was followed by Butler all the way across the field, and though Harmon may have been in position to help over the top, he had to respect the deep over route run by Steelers burner Darrius Heyward-Bey. By the time Harmon got to Brown -- Heyward-Bey actually helped slow down Harmon by screening him deep down the field -- it was too late. 


There were other instances -- like the very first third-and-long of the game for the Steelers -- when the Patriots doubled Brown off the snap with Butler and McCourty. With a player of Brown's caliber, it's not question of either single him with Butler or double him. Doubles will simply be part of the deal, in all likelihood, whether Butler's on him or not.

Back in Week 7, the Patriots were burned by Steelers secondary options on a couple of occasions when they quickly removed Brown from the equation.

The first time Brown was doubled off the snap (above), Eric Rowe was left with Heyward-Bey in a one-on-one situation and was beaten for a 14-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. The second time (below), Heyward-Bey ran across the field with Rowe trailing him, scoring once again from 14 yards out.

A holding penalty negated the second score, but it seemed clear what the Patriots were trying to tell the Steelers in those situations: "Go ahead and beat us with someone else, but we won't let you do it with Brown."

Even when Brown inevitably makes plays despite the extra attention -- the Steelers will run rub routes, screens and reverses simply to get the football in his hands -- it will be incumbent upon everyone to help limit his yards after the catch, McCourty explained this week.

"Brown is a great player and Malcolm has done a great job but it’s going to be all of us," McCourty said. "All of us have to help out and make sure we try to limit him whether that’s getting everyone to the ball, whether it’s a short pass [or] intermediate pass, whether he breaks a tackle and he’s trying to reverse, we all just got to have a high sense of urgency for him and alertness and try to get to him before he’s able to break the 50-60-yard play. I think defensively we all understand that and we’re going to work on that all week."


There are plenty of other defenses that the Patriots may choose to run in order to try to take away one of the game's best play-makers. If they feel as though Heyward-Bey or Eli Rogers or another teammate of Brown's is worthy of garnering special attention from one of their safeties, they could opt for more split-safety looks -- with both McCourty and Harmon deep -- than they did in Week 7.

The fact that it's Ben Roethlisberger behind center now -- and not Landry Jones, as it was in Week 7 -- may also help dictate coverages and encourage the Patriots to be more vigilent against the explosive play. 

Bottom line: Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will employ more than one look when they take on the best passing game they've faced all season. Oftentimes that'll mean two sets of eyes on Brown, and even then that's not guaranteed to stop him.

"It's tough because the thing about Antonio Brown and players of that caliber is that they're used to the multiple attention," Ryan said. "He gets doubled, he gets attention. Every team tries to do it, and he still has the numbers he has because he's a great player. That's what great players do.

"We just need to execute a little better than what other teams do. It's possible. It's not impossible. But he's not a guy you're going to completely eliminate from the game, and we've just got to corral him as a team."