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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

This Feels Like the Bucs Plundered the Patriots


Maybe someone in the “In Bill We Trust” cult can explain it to me, because I’m at a loss; why exactly did the Patriots head coach feel compelled to trade Logan Mankins, arguably his team’s best lineman – hell, any lineman – when his No. 1 priority is to protect his aging, franchise quarterback?

Tom Brady must be thrilled.

According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled off a bombshell on Tuesday, with New England sending six-time Pro Bowl guard Mankins to the Bucs for tight end Timothy Wright (a product of Rutgers, we %$#@ you not) and an undisclosed draft pick. Unless it’s a first-rounder, the Bucs just plundered Belichick and the Pats.

Clearly the genesis of the trade means one large, concerning factor; that Rob Gronkowski is progressing slowly, and his return for the start of the season, less than two weeks away, might be a pipe-dream. But holy shades of Eric Sievers, it sure seems like the Buccaneers wanted to get rid of Wright in a hurry.

"I'll just kind of jump on where he's been. He hasn't played as well as he should be playing," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said last week, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "He's dropped some balls. If you've been watching him at practice, he's dropped balls. He's a big part of what we want to do with the two-receiver, two-tight end set. Tim hasn't blocked as well inside.

"Once you're that H-back and you don't block, now they just say you're another receiver and teams start going nickel against you. But if they do that, you have to at least be a good pass catcher. And Tim is a good player, he just hasn't played as well as he needs to lately."

Neat.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. He went to Rutgers.

He also finished second on the Bucs in receiving yards (571) and touchdowns (five) after switching from receiver to tight end during his rookie year last year. Finishing second in anything on the Bucs is sort of like getting a new puppy for straight C’s, but nevertheless…

There is also this: According to Football Outsiders, Wright finished sixth among all tight ends last season in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), using a formula similar to a player’s WAR in baseball. Wright had a DYAR of 133, only one point shy of Jason Witten, and only two points behind Tony Gonzalez. Vernon Davis (199), Julius Thomas (214) and Jimmy Graham (223) represented the top three in the NFL. Gronkowski’s 91 was 11th in limited playing time before injury. He led the league in 2011 with a 459 DYAR, far and away the highest number in the NFL that season.

But since Belichick probably treats DYAR and the like as if somebody just asked him to comment on soccer (yes, this happened on Tuesday), it’s highly doubtful that Belichick just “Moneyballed” the Buccaneers by taking on an underappreciated value, even at the cost of Mankins. Belichick is smart, but odds are he doesn't have the slightest care for football sabermetrics. All he knows is this kid went to Rutgers and that is enough.

Granted, the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2005 was never the same beast that he was prior to holding out in 2010, then signing a six-year deal the following summer. But to label him a “parking cone” as one Twitter follower put it, in big games, and saying he’s “choked in two Super Bowls” is painting the cow a bit too brightly. Because if Mankins was “choking” against the Giants in 2012, that might mean that Brady had only a certain amount of time to get a pass off to one Wes Welker, one that he may have rushed, resulting in his receiver being played as the unfairly-criticized scapegoat. You can walk down that road if you want to, just be prepared. There will be name-calling.

If this is a directive to cut payroll (Mankins makes $6.25 million this season, $6.75 million in both 2015 and ’16; Wright will make $495,000 this season, $585,000 in 2015), well then shame on the Krafts and their $2.6 billion Patriots Empire. Sans escalators.

If it’s Belichick doing what he did with Richard Seymour, taking on value for an aging player while there is still a market, well, there’s a pattern of success. In Seymour’s case, that first-round pick turned out to be Nate Solder. In Mankins’ case…hey, it’s your guess.

We do have to understand that Belichick probably knows much of all there is to know about Wright though. He went to Rutgers, that mystical land in New Jersey that has captured Belichick’s heart. Winning another Super Bowl is in there, somewhere, as well. Dismantling an offensive line that already had questions to begin with is an interesting way about achieving that goal, that’s for sure.

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