THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Tony Massarotti

He could win game of tag

Mankins needs a short memory

If Logan Mankins holds out again this season (assuming there is a season) it will cost him significantly more than last season. If Logan Mankins holds out again this season (assuming there is a season) it will cost him significantly more than last season. (File/Barry Chin/The Boston Globe)
By Tony Massarotti
Globe Staff / February 16, 2011

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The rules are what they are, at least for now, so Logan Mankins remains a Patriot. Independent of the ongoing labor issues between NFL players and owners, the ultimate question will be whether Mankins can get past his bitterness and do what is best for both him and the team.

Use the franchise player tag to your advantage, Logan. Like Vince Wilfork, try to leverage it into the long-term deal you want. If you cannot, swallow some of your pride and embrace the fact that, for one year, you will be the highest-paid guard in the league.

Purely for the sake of background, let us remind you that many of us despise the franchise tag. Nonetheless, the players long ago agreed to it. Mankins can gripe all he wants after the Patriots slapped the tag on him like a pair of handcuffs — albeit platinum ones — but he can take that up with his union representatives and fellow players.

In the interim, assuming there is football, he is guaranteed a $10.1 million salary next season if he signs the franchise tender.

From a football perspective, the Patriots had little choice. Despite a hugely disappointing performance against the Jets in the playoffs, the Patriots went 14-2 and made huge strides. They are in far better shape now than they were a year ago. They have a cluster of free agents — most notably on the offensive line and in the backfield — and there is little doubt as to the order of importance.

Until yesterday, Tom Brady’s blind side was unprotected. Like Mankins, left tackle Matt Light was eligible for unrestricted free agency. To cut ties with both Mankins and Light would be downright foolish, so the Patriots did exactly what they should have done.

They placed an obvious emphasis on the better player, Mankins, arguably the best player at his position in the league. In 2011, Mankins will be paid as such. And while the money falls well short of what Mankins is seeking in terms of long-term guaranteed money, he has better leverage than he did two days ago.

I’ll take less money next year if you extend the contract and guarantee more over the long term.

For the sake of the relationship between the player and team, let’s hope the Patriots are being sincere when they say that a long-term deal with Mankins “remains our objective in utilizing the franchise designation and we are hopeful that Logan will be a Patriot for many years to come.’’

We all have every right to be skeptical. Wilfork, for one, agreed to a long-term deal after he was franchised last year, but the Patriots have failed in negotiations with other players (Asante Samuel, for one) after utilizing the franchise tag.

Whatever has happened between Mankins and the Patriots thus far — a soap opera that includes allegations of broken promises and demands for public apologies — Mankins needs to get past it if he wants to do what is best for him. If there is football in 2011, the Patriots can franchise him again, albeit at a salary of roughly $12 million. The unfortunate truth is that Mankins cannot do a darned thing about it, no matter how much he threatens, and a holdout now will cost him a heck of a lot more than it did in 2010.

The point: Any stubbornness on the part of Mankins now will hurt him as much as (or more than) it will the Patriots. Pride is a tremendous quality to possess, but it sometimes morphs into stupidity. Business is business. People lie and squeeze and push. None of us like it, but there comes a point where we all have to accept it.

For Mankins, that time appears to have come.

Of course, the ongoing labor issues are more than just a backdrop to this story. In two weeks, the existing contract between the players and owners will expire. Yesterday, owners charged the players with unfair labor practices. Representatives for the players are now rightfully challenging everything, including the validity of the franchise tag. Their stance: How can teams possibly be allowed to franchise players today when the owners opted out of a contract that will expire in two weeks?

Forget about sending in the lawyers. This thing is growing far more acrimonious and, as Robert Kraft suggested, “criminal’’ by the day. Send in the clowns. (Or is that the same thing?)

Nobody is suggesting Mankins sign the franchise tender today. Obviously, amid the labor issues, that would be ill-advised. There is simply too much uncertainty and instability in the NFL at the moment. But if and when NFL players and owners reconcile their differences — and that will likely take a while — Logan Mankins needs to do the same with his employers.

Mankins doesn’t need to forgive.

But he needs to forget.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti.

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