Logan Mankins was under no illusion about his place in the NFL and the sentimentality of the Patriots front office. He saw it firsthand when the Patriots traded Richard Seymour in 2009. There have been many other unhappy endings, including, before Mankins’s arrival, the release of Lawyer Milloy in 2003 and trade of Drew Bledsoe in 2002.
“The team, they want good players, but they want to make money, too,” Mankins said back in April. “That’s their job. They’re not just here to hand out money to everyone.”
And that’s why Tuesday it was Mankins’s turn to join the list of ignominious exits from Foxborough. The Patriots traded Mankins, 32, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a young athletic tight end (Tim Wright) and a fourth-round pick, a seeming pittance for their six-time Pro Bowler, three-time captain, and a possible Hall of Famer.
But winning and turning a profit are 1 and 1A for the front office, and Mankins’s value to the team just didn’t quite match his bloated salary for this year ($6.25 million). Most teams let their aging stars ride off into the sunset, but that doesn’t fly around here, not with Tom Brady’s clock ticking and the need for another championship growing more desperate each season.
The Patriots instead will develop several younger players on the offensive line and save more than $13 million in cap space over the next two years with this trade.
Mankins was still productive — ProFootballFocus.com rated his play the 18th-best out of 81 guards last season, with high grades in the run game — but this move appears to go back to the saying Bill Belichick used during the draft to justify selecting Jimmy Garoppolo, even though Brady still wants to play a few more years:
“You’re better off being early than late.”
Down the road in New Jersey, a veteran Jets defensive lineman, who has played the Patriots several times, was told about the trade by a team staff member.
“I’m not surprised,” was the player’s response.
Jets coach Rex Ryan was a little more surprised — “No way. Wow,” was his initial reaction — and while he showed admiration for Mankins, he didn’t bow down to him, either.
“He’s a tough ass,” said Ryan. “I like Logan Mankins. I’m glad that he’s not there. But we did OK against him.”
Mankins didn’t give up any sacks against the Jets last year, but their defensive line certainly pushed the Patriots’ offensive line around twice — first in the Patriots’ 13-10 squeaker in Week 2, then in the Jets’ 30-27 victory in Week 8.
And other teams did get the better of Mankins, especially in pass protection. He allowed five sacks in a two-week stretch against Miami and Pittsburgh, and the 11 sacks and 22 quarterback pressures he allowed over 18 games last year were by far the most of his career, according to PFF.
In a statement, Belichick called Mankins “the best guard I ever coached.”
Over the course of his career, no doubt. Mankins was everything the Patriots could’ve asked of him, and more, since they took him 32d overall in the 2005 draft. Mankins missed the championship years, but he still was a part of a lot of wins, and embodied everything the Patriots want out of a football player.
He was tough and durable, missing only 14 games in nine seasons (seven of which were a contract holdout). He did whatever the team asked of him, including playing a game at left tackle last year when Nate Solder went down. He played through most of the 2011 season with a partially torn ACL.
But the Patriots are all about cost/benefit, and Mankins didn’t quite fit on the regression line. Does he still have at least a couple years left in the tank? Sure. Was he losing foot speed? Definitely. Was he worth keeping on the team with cap numbers of $10.5 million this year and $11 million next year? Probably not.
The writing was on the wall for Mankins when the Patriots used three draft picks on offensive linemen back in April (veterans Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly were also put on notice). The Patriots like the kids they’re developing, including Josh Kline, Jordan Devey, and Braxston Cave, each of whom spent time on the practice squad last season.
The Patriots had a roster crunch at offensive line, and trading Mankins helps them keep one more developmental guy.
The trade also gives the Patriots a much-needed athletic body at tight end. Wright is a former wide receiver from — wait for it — Rutgers who went undrafted last year but had 54 catches, 571 yards, and five touchdowns as a rookie for the offensively challenged Buccaneers.
Wright is 6 feet 4 inches and 220 pounds — light by tight end standards — but is better in the passing game than Michael Hoomanawanui, Steve Maneri, and fullback James Develin. Wright also makes a league-minimum salary, which is music to the Patriots’ ears.
So, the trade “makes sense.” But to say that Mankins’s teammates were shocked Tuesday is an understatement of Belichickian proportion. They openly discussed in the locker room how surprised they were by the move, and Darrelle Revis acknowledged that “the atmosphere was a little down” at practice.
A league source connected to several Patriots players used a “p” word that rhymes with “missed” to describe the mood in the locker room Tuesday. Many players still felt that Mankins was the best lineman on the team, the source said.
But any player in the locker room who is truly upset should just talk to Mankins himself.
“It’s a business,” Mankins said back in April, “and if you don’t think it’s a business, you’re lying to yourself about that.”