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Let's Stop Suggesting Tim Wright Can Replace Aaron Hernandez, and More Post-Mankins Thoughts

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When a trade blindsides you like you've just been hit by a bloodthirsty pulling guard, there's so much you don't think to say right away.

So here are four more scattered thoughts on the Patriots' trade of Logan Mankins to the Bucs ...

1. Based on Lovie Smith's fluctuating evaluations of Tim Wright over the last couple of weeks, I do wonder whether he was a lock to make the Bucs.

No matter now. He's a Patriot, and one who is a fairly intriguing young tight end prospect. You've surely seen the optimistic stat analyses of this kid.

A few highlights and acclaims: He had the sixth-most receptions of any rookie tight end, ever. He was increasingly dangerous as the season went on and played his best games against the best defenses. He can line up in the slot or wide. He has good hands and can catch the ball in traffic.

At the least, he was a hell of a free-agent find for the Bucs after the '13 draft. And he should help here, another versatile weapon in a Patriots offense that could be downright dynamic.

I'm looking forward to discovering what the Patriots have in Wright. But I have one request: Can we stop suggesting he'll be anything close to what Aaron Hernandez was as an offensive player?

I've never seen a player quite like Hernandez. That could mean a lot of things now, but I'm talking strictly football ability here.

The Patriots could line him up pretty much anywhere -- even as the running back. He was such a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses that he allowed the Patriots to go to their high-speed, no-huddle offense knowing that Hernandez's versatility gave them an advantage anywhere they wanted one.

The disparity in their talent is evidenced not just in production and skill-set, but in their pedigree.

Hernandez was a fourth-round pick because of character concerns -- that's an understatement in retrospect, huh? --- but he'd have been a likely first-rounder based on talent.

Wright? He went undrafted out of Rutgers.

Hernandez was a distinctive talent who was revealed to be a sociopath and an alleged murderer.

Tim Wright is a decent talent and by all accounts a decent kid. But he's not a replacement for Aaron Hernandez on the football field. There aren't many who could be.

2. It's not accurate to suggest Bill Belichick is entirely unsentimental. His sendoffs for Tedy Bruschi and Troy Brown when they retired were heartfelt and anecdotal and even candid, just the type of homage you'd hope a coach would pay to a departing star.

He has it in him -- even yesterday, he paid tribute to Mankins by calling him the best guard he had ever coached, though maybe that's just a statement of fact more than an appreciation.

But he's not sentimental about players charged with contributing to his current team. And you know what? He shouldn't be, at all, whatsoever. That's part of our job description as fans, and it's no fun when a familiar, accomplished player is abruptly traded or cut or nudged into retirement.

But pretty much the last thing we should want a coach to be is sentimental, to keep players around even if he believes them to be too expensive or declining because he likes them or they had some good times together.

It's hard for us to say goodbye. Deep down, it probably is for Belichick, too. Thank goodness he can put that aside and do what he believes is right for his football team, even if it unpopular in the moment.

Keeping a player around to ride off into the sunset isn't just bad for business. It's bad for the team on the field.

3. The most common argument for keeping Mankins is a familiar one, especially during these nine seasons since their last Super Bowl victory:

Shouldn't they be trying to win now? They should be all-in, not trading their best lineman! Brady isn't getting any younger!

I get that point of view. I do. It's charged by the frustration of some near-misses in recent years and Tom Brady's impending football mortality. I

do agree there is one glaring example of a punted-away championship opportunity because they did not properly surround Brady with talent.

That was 2006, and even then, it's hard to argue that trading Deion Branch for a No. 1 pick was a bad idea. The bad idea was trying to replace him with a bumbling parade of Caldwells and Gabriels.

But we hear this whenever any veteran is surprisingly dismissed -- hell, I listed a half-dozen players yesterday, and that was a short list that excluded the likes of Ty Warren and Willie McGinest, ghosts that never haunted -- and it stuns me how so many fans and colleagues of mine never learn.

First, the move isn't in a vacuum. It frees them up to pay other players who are in their prime, players almost certain to contribute much more than the 32-year-old Mankins would this season or in seasons beyond. There is more to play out here. Have patience rather than bleating that Robert Kraft doesn't want to pay players and all of that nonsense.

Second, it should not matter whatsoever what Logan Mankins has done in the past. That's cold, but it's the absolute truth. It's all about what he's capable of now and in the future. And this is a 32-year-old guard who made a ton of money and had a very difficult time in pass protection last season. Players his age don't typically get healthier or rediscover their prime.

The Patriots got the best of him, and then they got out. How they plan to replace him is a mystery that will unfold over the next couple of weeks. I trust -- and you should to -- that they have had an idea how they will do so long before they ever talked trade with the Buccaneers.

4. This is shaping up to be sort of a lower-key version of the Lawyer Milloy trade before the 2003 season.

A popular, decorated veteran lauded for his leadership but coming off an underwhelming season is asked to take a pay cut. He says no thanks -- perhaps he says it more bluntly than that -- and a few hours/days later, he looks at his helmet and notices it has a completely different color scheme and decal than he is used to.

Meanwhile, his former teammates are shocked and angry at his departure, and it takes time to solve the crucial question: Who the hell is going to replace him on the field and in the locker room?

They'll collectively get over it no later than 1 p.m. on September 7, when the season kicks off. And should the be so lucky, the season will end the same way 2003 did.


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