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Sunday football notes

Unnecessary roughness with Mankins, team

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / March 6, 2011

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Think the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which is mediating the talks between the NFL and the players’ union, is available for team/player relationships?

The agent for Patriots All-Pro guard Logan Mankins was correct last month when he described the treatment of his client as a “travesty.’’

But Frank Bauer’s assertion that it’s solely the Patriots’ doing is wrong.

Both sides have been at fault. And unless they find a way to bridge their differences, it’s hard to predict an endgame in all of this.

What we know is this: Unless a team overwhelms the Patriots with a trade offer for Mankins once a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, he will have to play in 2011 for his $10.1 million franchise tag.

Those who know Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Bauer, a veteran, old-school, and respected agent, said that their once-good relationship has fallen apart.

Bauer and the Patriots front office are also hardly on speaking terms.

It didn’t have to be this way.

The Patriots are partly to blame because they didn’t make an offer on a contract extension for Mankins, the 32d overall pick in 2005, until last year.

In many ways, the Patriots are very good about the way they do their contracts and how they structure their team accordingly.

But their insistence to wait until the final contract year to redo many contracts is short-sighted.

The only other player from the first round of the ’05 draft to not have a determination made on his future with his club — either by being released or having his contract extended — was Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown (second overall), and he was a bonus baby. Brown will be an unrestricted free agent when NFL business resumes.

Of those drafted near Mankins, tight end Heath Miller (30th overall) had his contract extended by the Steelers in ’09. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson (31st) was extended just 24 games into his career by the Eagles in ’06. Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu (45th) got a new contract in ’08. Packers safety Nick Collins (51st) received his last year.

The fact is, Mankins should have been extended long ago.

The teams that are most respected around the league and in their locker rooms for taking care of players — the Packers, Steelers, and Eagles — identify their promising young players early and sign them to extensions before it becomes cost-prohibitive.

The Packers signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to an extension after seven games as a starter in ’08.

Now it looks like a huge bargain at about $11 million per season through ’14 for the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

There’s no reason the Patriots couldn’t have seen after the ’07 season, when Mankins was named to his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams, that he was an ascending and highly durable player and signed him to an extension that would be viewed as a value down the line.

Instead, the Patriots waited three more years to make Mankins an offer and the cost grew with each game.

But the Mankins camp has been at fault as well.

Bauer has insisted that Mankins now be the highest-paid at his position, ahead of the Saints’ Jahri Evans, who received a seven-year, $56.7 million contract last May.

Going back to last year, the Patriots have consistently made offers to Bauer that would put Mankins second or third among guards.

Several agents who represent high-performing offensive linemen and are familiar with the offer have said they would have taken the Patriots’ offer without much thought.

If Bauer insists on making Mankins the highest-paid guard in the league, maybe he should look elsewhere. In case Bauer hasn’t noticed, the Patriots aren’t in the habit of handing out premier contracts at any position besides quarterback.

Mankins might end up with the likes of Asante Samuel, who thought they should be the best-paid players at their position but had to find such deals outside of New England.

And for those wondering whether there’s a disconnect between the football staff and ownership on Mankins, there isn’t. The two have been in agreement for 11 years on contracts, and now there might be a rift over a guard (albeit a darn good one)?

Not unless Belichick has changed the way he feels about payroll recently.

The Patriots made mistakes with Mankins, to be sure. They need to reevaluate when and why they give out contract extensions. It’s smart business when the player is good, durable, and of high character, like Mankins.

But whatever has transpired among the Patriots, Bauer, and Mankins, it should be reparable with a contract offer that has been in line with his position and performance.

It’s hard to see how this will wind up playing out. Right now the relationship between Bauer and the Patriots is broken.

Maybe when the federal mediator is done with the NFL and the Players Association, he can visit with the Patriots, Bauer, and Mankins.

It’s that bad. And it doesn’t have to be.

Here comes the judge
An old NFL nemesis makes his presence feltYou’ve probably heard the name “David S. Doty’’ mentioned many times in the past few weeks if you’ve been paying attention to the negotiations between the NFL and the Players Association.

But who is he and why is he being talked about so much?

Doty, 81, is a US District Court judge in Minnesota. Appointed to the federal bench in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, he has been the arbiter over the NFL collective bargaining agreement since 1992.

NFL ownership has viewed Doty, a former Marine, as a thorn in its side for most of those 19 years. His ruling in 1992 paved the way for free agency in the NFL. Doty also overruled a special master who said Michael Vick had to return $16 million of his bonus money to the Falcons after he pled guilty to federal charges in a dog fighting operation.

And then on Tuesday, Doty dealt NFL owners their biggest blow in this labor fight when he again overruled a special master and said the league was not entitled to the $4.2 billion in television money that would be paid to it even if no games were played during a lockout.

That took away the owners’ war chest for a lockout, one that could have lasted them two years.

In his extraordinary ruling, Doty painted a picture of the owners as greedy and selfish, and he left open the possibility that the players could be awarded damages from the case.

Doty found, through testimony and evidence, that the NFL would receive $421 million from DirecTV if there was a lockout and it would not have to be repaid.

NBC, Fox, and CBS were told it was a “deal breaker’’ if they didn’t pay rights fees during a lockout or the NFL would look for other broadcast partners.

The NFL, testified a network executive, has “market power like no one else, and at a certain point, they’ll tell you to pack it up or pay the piper.’’

In summation, Doty wrote, “The record shows that the NFL undertook contract renegotiations to advance its own interests and harm the interests of the players.’’

Double-edged sword
Decertification would mean open seasonOne of the weapons being talked about in the labor negotiations is decertification by the Players Association.

It means the players would become individual employees and not part of a unit that can collectively bargain. It’s their best weapon to prevent a lockout, although owners would make a case that they are still entitled to lock them out (there’s no legal precedent).

But it’s not strictly a winning proposition for the union if it goes that route. One of the more interesting effects of decertification deals with agents because they are regulated by the NFLPA.

There is much angst in the agent community over decertification, and there should be. All rules and regulations would go out the window, and it would be open season on everything, especially the players.

Since there would cease to be an NFLPA, agents would no longer need its certification. Anyone could become an agent, even those who are currently under suspension or who have previously been banished by the union.

The contracts signed by players binding them to an agent for representation would be worthless. Agents — or even shadier characters — would swoop in and try to represent players. There are tampering rules to prevent that now — agents can’t pitch another person’s client until the agent has been fired — but they would cease to exist.

And the problems that NCAA football programs have with agents would only grow. Agents could contact any college football player without repercussions (there’s currently a rule prohibiting contact before a player is three years out of high school).

Sure, the rules would go back into effect as soon as the NFLPA reconstitutes itself, but when would that be? The last time the union decertified, in 1989, it wasn’t revived until 1993.

So if the NFLPA decertifies, football will be played at some point and players would need to be represented. Until the union recertifies, there would be no one policing agents.

That wouldn’t be good for anybody.

Etc.
Some qualities make Stroud a good fit here The opinion among three league sources is that 10-year veteran defensive end Marcus Stroud, whom the Patriots signed last week, is no lock to make the team coming out of training camp if New England invests in the line during the draft. “That body has had a lot taken out of it,’’ said an AFC East scout. “Makes a lot of sense with his mental makeup and leadership. It’s what the Patriots are about, and that’s what he gives in the locker room right now. I don’t know if he’s got anything left in the tank to help them out on the field but they’re probably willing to give it a shot and see if they can get anything out of him.’’ At 6 feet 6 inches and 310 pounds, Stroud fits the Patriots’ profile a little better than Gerard Warren (6-4, 330), who is an unrestricted free agent. “He should be able to [help] just on size/strength alone,’’ said another AFC East scout. “He’s got more what you want at [3-4 end] and is longer at the point [of attack]. It’s harder to cover him up [with blockers].’’ Stroud was let go by the Bills, who want to get more playing time for younger players Torell Troup, Alex Carrington, and Kellen Heard. Stroud will be helped by a shift in scheme. In Kyle Williams, the Bills had a nose tackle who was quick and a penetrator. Vince Wilfork takes up blockers, which should help Stroud, who became strictly a two-down player for the Bills and offered nothing in the pass rush by the end of the season. Everyone agrees that Stroud will be a hit in the locker room, if he sticks. “For the team, he’s a great guy, all the guys love him,’’ a scout said. “And he’s a football guy. Loves the game. We’ll have to see how much he has left.’’

Quarterback isn’t covered for now The Seahawks and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck were not able to come to an agreement on a contract extension, so the Boston College product will be a free agent when a new collective bargaining agreement is put in place. General manager John Schneider said at the combine that he hoped to re-sign the 12-year veteran, who has spent the past 10 seasons with the Seahawks. “It’s going good,’’ said Schneider. “We’re having great dialogue. Matt is Mr. Seattle, and he has done a ton of great things for the city, on and off the field. We’ve had good dialogue. I think you’ve heard me say it before, the head coach and the quarterback are the most important people in the building. I would say we’re having good dialogue.’’ Regardless of whether the Seahawks re-sign Hasselbeck before the draft, Schneider expects to draft a quarterback. He was mentored by former Packers general manger Ron Wolf, who loved to stockpile quarterbacks. “You’ll see us looking at quarterbacks every year,’’ Schneider said.

Vick gets reflective Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by the Maxwell Football Club last week after signing his franchise tender worth about $16 million. He said a contract extension hasn’t been discussed. “We just talked about what can get done this year,’’ Vick said. “I think that anything else that happens is solely on me. I think I dictate the situation based on my play and performance and my actions on and off the field. The most important part is going out and playing good football and trying to bring something to the city that we’ve been looking for for a long time.’’ Vick, who missed two seasons after being sentenced to federal prison for dog fighting, explained why he canceled an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show’’ last month. “I just thought the timing wasn’t right based on everything that was going on with the contract, the CBA, and certain things that I didn’t want to touch on at the time,’’ he said. “I felt like I needed to do more in order to be on the show to talk about the past and to talk about the present and how prosperous things are and how bad they were and how we can move forward. I think when I do go on, it’s going to be outstanding.’’

Short yardage While Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer reportedly told confidants that he will never again step foot in Paul Brown Stadium, a team official told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the club’s stance has not changed: Palmer will either play for the Bengals or he will have to retire. “He is key to our plans, he’s central to us. He was told that and that we count on him going forward,’’ team president Mike Brown said at the Senior Bowl. “He was told that we are not in a position to trade him.’’ One interesting aspect of the situation is that his younger brother, Jordan, is the backup and would benefit if Carson retired . . . Browns cornerback Eric Wright told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he was the target of death threats after giving up three touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin of the Ravens in Week 3. “I went from people expecting me to be a top cornerback in the league to receiving death threats,’’ Wright said. “It was a lot to deal with.’’ He never reported the death threats to the police. “I wasn’t going to let a few bad apples ruin the whole tree,’’ he said . . . With Wade Smith the new defensive coordinator for the Texans, 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing will be switching from strong side outside linebacker in the 4-3 to strong side inside in the 3-4. “You’ve got a very physical player who’s got instincts,’’ general manager Rick Smith said. “You always talk about in a 3-4 the rushers outside, but I think if you’ve got a guy inside who can add some value that way, I think Brian will be able to do that. He’s a physical player. I get excited where we have him now at the Mike spot because I think he can do some things both against the run and in pass-rush situations.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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