Well, we did all figure the Patriots might part ways with a veteran offensive lineman, didn't we?
Ryan Wendell was eyeballed as a prime candidate. So too was Dan Connolly.
Even Marcus Cannon, though not in the same salary stratosphere as the others, might have been expecting a knock on the door from that grim reaper in team-issued clothing.
But Logan Mankins, longtime Patriot bulwark, six-time Pro Bowl guard ... traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?!
Did not see that one coming, maybe because it's hard to imagine Mankins playing for the organization that gave America delicious creamsicle uniforms and a ridiculous mascot named Bucco Bruce.
I suspect all of my sportswriter peers charged with the irresistible, hopeless task of projecting the Patriots' 53-man roster time and again during the preseason didn't foresee it either.
I think we all knew that defensive lineman Tommy Kelly, let go over the weekend, wouldn't be the Patriots' most surprising transaction. There are almost always veterans -- especially ones whose salaries approach their value -- who are sent packing this time of year.
But trading Mankins for a fairly productive second-year tight end named Timothy Wright and a fourth-round draft choice? That's one wallops you out of nowhere.
Then again, it's a tidy ending. Mankins's nine seasons here are bookended by surprises. Remember when he was drafted? The Patriots took him with the 32d pick in the 2005 draft, out of Fresno State. The experts -- feel free to apply your own air quotes there -- had him pegged as a later-round selection. Some had him multiple rounds later.
When his name was announced during ESPN's draft coverage, I recall a look of bewilderment crossing Mel Kiper Jr. face while a puzzled Chris Berman asked him, essentially, who the hell is this guy? (I believe what he actually said as he looked Kiper's way was a shrugged, "Well?")
He clearly disliked the pick, but he was paralyzed from saying as much because he knew there was a damn good chance he would look foolish for challenging Belichick's knowledge of the player. So he timidly called it a reach, then wrote this the next day:
Guard Logan Mankins was a reach in the first round but the Patriots obviously like his size and nastiness, and he will help fill the void left by Joe Andruzzi's departure via free agency.
The latter part of the evaluation proved spot on. And, not even in retrospect but in that very moment, should have negated the idea that Mankins was a reach.
You, me, Kiper and everyone else outside of Belichick's inner circle didn't anticipate Mankins's arrival. His departure today caught us even more off-guard, so to speak.
For mental health reasons, I've resisted turning on the radio since the news of the deal broke. But even with the volume on zero, I can almost hear the vague hum of alarmist caterwauling about this deal. Are they trying to win this year? Are they? They are? THEN WHY TRADE MANKINS!? WAS THIS GUY NOT ALL-PRO LAST SEASON?
It's understandable to some narrow degree. Mankins was an accomplished, identifiably valuable player. He was the toughest of the tough, a frequent captain, perceived as the fearsome, tone-setting anchor of the offensive line.
He looked the part, and he had the accolades confirming that he could play it.
The greatest guard in NFL history is John Hannah, which by all laws of common sense make him the greatest guard in Patriots history as well. The argument for the second-greatest guard in Patriots history is nearly as obvious. It's Mankins, and evidenced by pro-football-reference's Approximate Value register, there's no one close.
But he's 32 years old, and at that age, All-Pros can be all done before you know it. He obviously struggled last year (11 sacks allowed), and didn't always play his best in the biggest moments. And Belichick's track record in identifying and discarding veteran stars before their eroding skills are apparent is pretty much beyond reproach.
Is there a star veteran who he has traded or cut who has come back to haunt him? Ty Law to some degree, but that parting was driven by animosity over money more than a belief that the player was declining.
Richard Seymour had some individual success in Oakland, but there's no disputing that the either/or decision to pay Vince Wilfork was the correct one. Otherwise, Belichick has been irrefutably correct in his most controversial decisions, from Drew Bledsoe to Lawyer Milloy to Mike Vrabel and on and on.
I don't think he's unsentimental -- I'm convinced he asked Tedy Bruschi to retire so he wouldn't have to cut him. But he doesn't view the franchise and his players through the NFL Films-produced, sepia-toned nostalgia that we do.
He's pragmatic above all else, and that's a crucial trait to have in a league that "rewards" undisciplined franchises who pander to the fans' wishes with 8 wins per season. Right, Jerry Jones?
Money is also a factor. And it should be. Mankins was positioned to take up a hellacious chunk of the salary cap (he counted as $21.5 million over the next two seasons). He clears $5.75 million in cap space, which could allow them to acquire additional talent over the course of the season or extend free-agents-to-be Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, and Shane Vereen.
Say, did I mention Revis? No, moving on from Mankins doesn't suggest a half-hearted commitment to winning this year. It suggests there is prime-of-career talent the Patriots are intent on keeping around.
Is Wright, something of an afterthought in today's news, one of those potential keepers? Good question. He's a bit of a mystery, someone with obvious pass-catching talent but who appeared to be at a crossroads with the Bucs just a season into his career.
Wright was recently released from coach Lovie Smith's doghouse, apparently for good behavior..
He was productive as a rookie last season, catching 54 balls for 571 yards and 5 touchdowns. He's a Rutgers guy, and given that Belichick seems to covet Scarlet Knights like they've won the last dozen national championships, it's a wonder he didn't sign him in the first place after he went undrafted.
At best, he should be decent Gronk insurance here. At worst ... well, let's hope he's better than Lovett Purnell or Arther Love or someone like that.
So ... whaddaya think happens next? Will Belichick sign Richie Incognito now? There is an opening at guard.
I'm kidding, I think. But the larger point stands. The only surprise with the Patriots this time of year is when there are no surprises at all.