The cold war between the Patriots and left guard Logan Mankins just got mighty steamy, with Mankins telling ESPN.com he wants to be traded.
Mankins has been the team's best offensive lineman for several years, but he seems to be at wit's end over his contract dispute. The 2005 first-round draft pick is a restricted free agent, and he has until Monday night to sign his $3.26 million tender. However, Mankins told ESPN.com there is "no way" he would sign it. He also said he wouldn’t report to the team's mandatory minicamp this week.
"At this point, I'm pretty frustrated, from everything that's happened and the way negotiations have gone," Mankins told ESPN.com. "I want to be traded. I don’t need to be here anymore."
Those are fighting words.
This figured to be the most important 24-hour stretch of the Mankins situation, as curiosity loomed regarding the tender and his attendance at camp. Obviously, the latest developments ended that portion of speculation and kicked things up a few notches.
Mankins' agent, Frank Bauer, said the Patriots' final contract offer was "20 percent lower than Jahri Evans' deal with the Saints." Evans recently signed a $56.7 million, seven-year deal, and it was presumed to be a measuring stick in Mankins' negotiations.
The Boston Globe reported the Patriots offered Mankins a five-year deal worth approximately $7 million per year. If this is the case, Mankins doesn’t have a whole lot of ground to stand on because that’s a pretty nice chunk of change. In fact, it would make him one of the five highest-paid guards in the NFL, and if the Patriots don’t want to increase such a contract offer after getting publicly called out by Mankins, it's hard to blame them.
The question now is: Where do the Patriots go from here? Losing Mankins would be a crushing blow, and they've clearly pushed the business model too far in this situation. Sure, money can cure a lot of things, but it doesn’t appear as though it can turn this beef into a prime cut of steak.
In a way, they're damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If the Patriots up the ante and try to pay the man, they'll break the hard-line precedent they've tried to establish over the last decade — one in which has drawn plenty of criticism from the players who have moved on from New England. But if the Patriots trade Mankins, they're still allowing the player to dictate his terms, and that’s something else the Patriots have tried to avoid in the past.
Yet, the 28-year-old is in the prime of his career and is one of the best guards in the game. He's got to hold considerable value on the trading market, and the Patriots could parlay him into other assets — perhaps a defensive playmaker, a marquee running back or a couple of quality draft picks.
Surely, the Patriots could flex their muscle and let him hang out in football purgatory. They still hold the power when it comes to Mankins' future, so he'll have to play at some point in 2010 if he doesn’t want to lose an NFL year of service and do this dance again next offseason. Maybe, over time and some group therapy, things will work themselves out. Or, maybe it will only increase Mankins' disdain for the business side of the game.
At this point, because of his value, it really might be in the Patriots' best interests to explore a trade. This is a team that has some holes, and this could give them an opportunity to address some of those needs. By letting Mankins sit out, they'd only create more question marks on the field going forward
Because Mankins has been absent from Gillette Stadium throughout the offseason, the Patriots have been able to work out some other players at the guard position. Stephen Neal is the incumbent starter on the right side, but Dan Connolly has gotten plenty of reps with the first-team offense. Right tackle Nick Kaczur has also been taking plenty of practice reps at guard due to the emergence of Sebastian Vollmer, who figures to start at right tackle in 2010. New England also drafted Ted Larsen in April, and they're trying to convert the former North Carolina State center into a guard.
In that sense, the Patriots aren’t completely hamstrung by Mankins' demands. In a ideal world, the front office wouldn’t have played hardball, would have brought some real money to the negotiating table and made Mankins a happy man after five great years of service.
Since that strategy blew up in their faces, the Patriots only have two logical options: Pay him or trade him — and Mankins made it sound like he doesn’t want Robert Kraft's signature on his checks anymore.