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Mankins rejoins Patriots

No word on when guard will play

The press release announcing that offensive lineman Logan Mankins had returned to the Patriots yesterday was brief, an anticlimactic way to signal the end of the longest New England holdout of the Bill Belichick era.

“The New England Patriots announced today that G Logan Mankins has reported to the team,’’ it read, and then listed the veteran’s accomplishments, including his 89 starts (including postseason) over five years and Pro Bowl and All-Pro designations.

Two short paragraphs, four total sentences.

Though he is “just’’ a guard, as some critics of Mankins’s holdout have pointed out, the decision of the 28-year-old to sign his restricted free agent tender and report to the team two weeks before his deadline was welcomed by members of the organization.

On a conference call yesterday, running backs coach Ivan Fears had the most enthusiastic response.

“Are you kidding? The guys are jumping for joy,’’ he said. “Having another playmaker like him coming back to play for us? Sure. Plus he’s fresh. We’re kind of excited about it, no doubt about it. We can’t wait to see where he’s at out on the practice field.’’

Coach Bill Belichick was more subdued but still sounded pleased.

“It’s good to have him back on the team,’’ Belichick said. “He’s been a great player and person for our football team. He is tough. He’s smart. He’s a dependable player and he’s done all those things since he has been here. You just can’t have too many guys like that on your football team, so we’re glad he’s back.’’

Because Mankins is regarded as a late-reporting player, New England was granted a two-week roster exemption, meaning it can carry 54 players. Once the two weeks are up, or if the Patriots activate Mankins before then, they will have to make a roster move to get down to 53.

The Patriots’ starting left guard from the day he was drafted 32d overall in 2005 out of Fresno State, Mankins was one of more than 200 NFL players who were denied the opportunity to become unrestricted free agents because of the absence of a collective bargaining agreement.

Under the rules of the uncapped season, only players with six years experience or more were eligible for free agency this year; the rule under the prior CBA was that players with four-plus years could become unrestricted free agents.

Last season was Mankins’s fifth. He was tendered at the highest level — $3.268 million — so if another team had offered him a contract the Patriots did not match, that team would have had to surrender first- and third-round picks to New England.

When Mankins didn’t sign his tender by the June 14 deadline, the Patriots exercised their right to drop the offer to 110 percent of the player’s 2009 salary, which amounts to $1.54 million.

Mankins now will receive 9/17ths of that amount (for the nine weeks remaining in the regular season), or about $815,000.

Mankins, the final RFA to report, and Chargers wideout Vince Jackson, who was in a similar situation, really had no option. Without a new CBA in place, the players had no way of knowing whether the rules for unrestricted free agency would revert to the four-year mark or remain at the six-year mark. As both currently have five accrued seasons, they will earn their all-important sixth by collecting at least six paychecks for being on the 53-man roster.

The Patriots initially penciled in right tackle Nick Kaczur to work in Mankins’s usual spot, but after Kaczur suffered what turned out to be a season-ending back injury, they turned to Dan Connolly.

Connolly had been playing well enough not to be really noticed — a good thing for an offensive lineman — until the game in San Diego two weeks ago, when Tom Brady was hit and sacked several times by players coming off the left side of the line. Connolly was benched after halftime for Ryan Wendell, but he was back in the starting lineup Sunday against Minnesota.

The big question now is how rusty Mankins is. He has not played a down of football or participated in any team activities since the loss to Baltimore in the playoffs a little less than 10 months ago. While he undoubtedly has been working out, there is no substitute for playing to remain in game shape. 

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