While the Patriots took their most logical course of action by placing the franchise tag on left guard Logan Mankins, this could wind up being the move that digs the decisive stake through their relationship.
The Patriots had a two-week window in which they could use their franchise tag, and by placing it on Mankins — who has said multiple times he would be unhappy about any such move — they might be hoping it encourages Mankins’ camp to move toward a resolution. The Boston Globe reported it was the non-exclusive tag, which means Mankins can negotiate with other teams and could yield a trade, as it did with quarterback Matt Cassel in 2009.
The Patriots and Mankins have been at odds since the organization tendered him as a restricted free agent last year. Mankins wanted a long-term deal, but the Patriots were well within their rights to try to save some money in the hopes that they could reach a longer answer down the line. Since that didn’t happen, Mankins skipped every session of offseason workouts and didn’t report to New England until the eighth game of the 2010 regular season.
With each passing day, Mankins and the Patriots’ front office have appeared to grow further and further apart when it came to the possibility of a long-term contract. Last month, Mankins told reporters in Hawaii the Patriots hadn’t reopened contract discussions, and he would be peeved if they placed the franchise tag on him.
While that tag could be worth about $10.1 million — a hefty haul for a guard — Mankins would prefer to solidify himself with a longer deal with more guaranteed money and the option to make three to four times that amount over the length of a multiyear deal.
His urge to execute such a contract would give him insurance in the case of injury in 2011, and it could help him move on from an organization that he doesn’t feel has treated him fairly through the course of these negotiations. However, if he signed that ideal contract with New England, it would allow him to forget about the business side of the game and simply concentrate on football.
The Patriots are taking a gamble with the tag. They could be hoping it causes him to search for trade avenues, or they might be banking on the notion that Mankins would try to reach a longer deal in the same fashion that Vince Wilfork did last year.
Here’s where it gets tricky. The NFL has allowed teams to use the tag in February, but there’s no telling whether or not the tag will hold up in a new collective-bargaining agreement. Since the players have essentially accepted the plan to move forward with an 18-game schedule, the owners figure to make some concessions on the other end. In addition, since the players — almost in complete uniformity — have always hated the franchise tag, that has been one area of contention in the labor talks, and the players have a great chance to eliminate the franchise tag with the new CBA. (Also, the NFLPA has said it will challenge any franchise tag, but that’s essentially an empty threat. The NFLPA has always had the ability to challenge the franchise tag, and it hasn’t gotten anywhere.)
If the tag is eliminated in the new CBA, the Patriots won’t be able to trade Mankins because he’d become a free agent. Since Mankins has publicly displayed so many ill feelings toward New England’s front office, it seems like a sure bet he’d cut them out of any negotiations on the open free-agent market.