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Guarded response

Contract issue blocked out by Mankins

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By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / November 4, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH – “It was just time.’’

That’s the explanation Logan Mankins gave yesterday for why he returned to the Patriots Tuesday, signing his restricted free agent tender and ending the longest contract holdout of the Bill Belichick era.

“I had my reasons for the date that I came back, but I’m not going to explain them to everyone,’’ Mankins said.

“I’m happy to be back. I have a lot of friends here, a lot of guys I have a lot of respect for and love playing with, so it was good to see everyone again. And when I let a bunch of guys know the day before, everyone was pretty happy I was coming back, so I knew I had a lot of support here.’’

He was on the field in his customary No. 70 in the afternoon, saying he was eager and nervous to see how he would do at practice, his first since the days before New England’s playoff loss to Baltimore last January.

The affable Pro Bowler met the media in a sleeveless T-shirt, Patriots hat, and Fu Manchu-style mustache. He said he had been in Massachusetts since April and mostly had been playing golf, working out, watching Patriots games, and spending time with family.

Mankins thinks the offensive line has played well in his absence, and he tipped his cap to Dan Connolly, who has filled his spot at left guard.

“I know one thing, I had a lot more faith in Dan Connolly than you guys did before the season started,’’ he said.

Mankins talked to his team mates throughout his holdout, at times discussing his options as they pertained to his contract issues.

One of those teammates was Tom Brady. The quarterback said it was great to have Mankins back, and he shed some light on what he and Mankins discussed.

“I think you just always try to express support and you understand what he’s going through and the tough decisions that are made, but also maybe a different perspective from a player that’s been through it,’’ Brady said. “I’ve been around for a while now — longer than most everybody in this locker room — so I think I just try to share a little bit of insight, and maybe it can create some awareness for them.’’

Mankins welcomed Brady’s opinion.

“Tom’s a great guy, and he looks at things and really thinks about it, and when you talk to Tom and you’re getting advice from Tom, you always know it’s good advice because he’s really thinking about what he’s saying,’’ said Mankins. “He’s not telling you something [just] to say it. He’s actually putting thought into it.’’

Brady’s contract situations with the Patriots have been different from Mankins’s, however. The 32d overall pick in 2005, Mankins fell victim to a change in the free agency rules this year because of the uncapped season and was not an unrestricted free agent despite his five years’ service.

Instead, he and more than 200 other players with four or five years’ experience remained restricted free agents, and therefore could be offered one-year guaranteed tenders. Some RFAs came to long-term deals, but others, including Mankins, did not.

It was reported earlier this season that the Patriots and Mankins were close to striking a multiyear contract until owner Robert Kraft requested that Mankins publicly apologize for his June comments (in which he said, among other things, that he wanted to be traded and that he was taught that a man’s word was his bond but “obviously this isn’t the case with the Patriots’’).

Kraft went on the radio shortly after that report and denied there had been a deal in place.

Asked yesterday if he got what he wanted from the holdout, Mankins replied, “What I wanted from it? Not at the moment.’’

Multiyear deal or not, Mankins had little choice but to return to the Patriots before Nov. 16, the league-mandated date to be on a roster for the final six games of the season; earning six paychecks will give Mankins the sixth season of experience and nearly guarantee his becoming a free agent.

Had he not reported by the deadline, Mankins may have been in the same situation again next year.

None of that mattered yesterday. Mankins was happy to be back with his teammates and back playing football.

“It’s pretty special to play football,’’ he said. “You become really good friends with all of those guys. Any time you line up with someone and you see all of the work they put in and that you put in together and you go out there and do it together, that’s pretty special.

“I’m close with all of these guys. We’re all friends. I’ve seen the guys all the time. We’ve played golf together, gone out together, ate together. So that was the hardest part: being away from guys that I truly like and like to be around.’’

As for his seemingly preselected date of return, Mankins doesn’t look at it as returning three weeks early.

“Actually, I’m eight weeks late,’’ he said.

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