Part 3 in a 10-part series examining key storylines leading into Patriots’ training camp…
The question: Can the Patriots and Logan Mankins reach a long-term deal to keep the guard in New England?
Three factors: Do hard feelings remain on either side (or both sides)?; Money, of course; Mankins’ play and durability
Finding the answer: As recently as late April, the stalwart left guard quipped, “I’ve heard there’s this thing in football called free agency…but I haven’t seen it. Maybe one of these days I could actually experience that.”
But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time in the near future for the Pats’ 2005 first-round draft pick.
Before the lockout, New England designated Mankins as its franchise player for the 2011 season, and those tags will very likely remain in the new CBA – so for this season, at least, unless another team steps up with a sweet trade offer, Mankins will be playing with the Pats under a one-year, guaranteed $10.1 million contract (the franchise tag for offensive linemen is an umbrella one and not broken down for tackles vs. guards/centers, therefore guards get to benefit because tackles are higher earners overall). That $10.1 million is more than Mankins has made in his previous six NFL seasons combined.
At the moment, however, that only covers this year.
Since being drafted, Mankins has started every game he’s been with the team for and has not missed so much as a practice; with media, he generally has never talked a lot but when he does, particularly after team losses, he’s frank and insightful and often funny. There were no signs that there was an issue between him and the team until last June, when he told ESPNBoston.com that he felt he had been lied to by the club about doing a contract extension.
One of over 200 fourth- and fifth-year players who were affected by the rules of the 2010 uncapped season and not allowed to become unrestricted free agents, Mankins received a restricted free agent tender from the team, which was reduced when he did not sign by a certain date and then pro-rated when he opted not to report to Gillette Stadium until Nov. 2 – but he was with the first-team offense on his first day of practice and was a Pro Bowl starter and All-Pro pick despite playing in just nine games.
And things have been rocky ever since. The Patriots offered Mankins a five-year deal in 2010 that would have made him the second- or third-highest paid guard in the NFL – and it was turned down by Mankins and agent Frank Bauer. Other agents with knowledge of the offer have told the Globe that they would have accepted the contract were Mankins a client of theirs. At the Combine in February, Bauer called the Pats’ treatment of Mankins “a travesty.”
Bauer’s portrayal may be a bit of a stretch, and Mankins is a victim of unfortunate circumstance when it comes to the UFA/RFA issue last year. But the players drafted around him in 2005 have either signed extensions with their team or allowed to hit free agency (the exception being 33rd overall pick David Baas of San Francisco). Mike Patterson, the player drafted the spot before Mankins, received a seven-year contract extension from the Eagles midway through the 2006 season – before he’d even played two full campaigns – and Heath Miller, taken 30th overall by the Steelers that year, signed a six-year extension in 2009. Brodney Pool, taken two spots after Mankins, hit free agency in 2010, and Reggie Brown, another Philadelphia pick at 35th overall, also signed a long-term extension with the Eagles a few years ago though he was traded last year. None have the resume of Mankins.
There was a story in the fall that the sides were close to an agreement but it fell apart when Robert Kraft asked Mankins to apologize for saying he’d been lied to; Kraft has denied that story, but when asked Bauer didn’t confirm or deny it.
Mankins enjoys his teammates, even the ones he hasn’t played with yet: he offered advice to Nate Solder when the rookie called him up in the spring. His relationship with Bill Belichick is also solid, and Kraft said earlier this year that he would like to have Mankins in New England long-term.
None of that, however, speaks to either side’s willingness to let bygones be bygones and get Mankins signed to a deal that pays him for being one of the very best at his position and keeps a great player in his spot protecting Brady.