Bill Belichick isn’t the sentimental type. But you already knew that.
In shades of the 2009 trade that sent Richard Seymour to the Raiders eight days before the season opener, the Patriots traded former All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick. The news was first reported by Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer.
On the surface, it’s shocking news. Mankins was made the highest-paid guard in the NFL in 2011 following a contentious contract face off during which he sat out half the ’10 season. He appeared five times on the AP All-Pro team (first team once in ’10) and made the AFC Pro Bowl team each of the past five years.
But, as always, there’s a lot more to this story.
Mankins’ play had slipped the past three years. While he was still one of the best run-blocking guards in the league (his pulling ability freed up many big runs down the stretch last season) his pass blocking had taken a hit, most likely because of assorted leg injuries. He no longer moves very well laterally in space; it was eye opening to watch him allow five sacks in back-to-back games against the Dolphins and Steelers last fall.
Probably the biggest factor in today’s trade was Mankins’ contract. He was due to count $10.5 million against the cap this season, and $11 million next season. As you saw with Vince Wilfork having his contract redone after a faceoff, the Patriots aren’t going to pay unless they think you’re playing to that contract. Mankins’ contract was going to be an issue at some point (it’s part of the reason why I picked a guard for the Patriots in my ‘Who they should take’ mock draft). After watching him during training camp, the Patriots obviously thought now was the time to sell high and take the $8 million cap hit spread over two seasons (they’ll save $6.25 million against the cap in ’14).
As for the impact on the Patriots’ offensive line, it throws the interior into short-term flux. The Patriots were already having an open competition at center and right guard between Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Josh Kline and Jordan Devey. The Patriots could move Marcus Cannon to guard full-time, where his drive blocking can be utilized more. New England’s opening day line could project to be LT Nate Solder, LG Marcus Cannon, C Dan Connolly/Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly/Josh Kline, and RT Sebastian Vollmer.
As for the player the Patriots acquired in the deal, second-year TE Tim Wright, this is a case of a needy team doing business with a team that has a surplus at a position. The Bucs drafted Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round, which made Wright expendable. I concur with colleague Andy Benoit, who wrote of Wright: “[Wright] is a former wideout who can consistently beat safeties and even cornerbacks when detached from the formation. Wright has the body control and quickness to blossom into a top-five pass-catcher at his position over the next two years.” And Benoit smartly put Wright on his “All-Emerge Team” after last season.
Wright should not be looked at as insurance for Rob Gronkowski as he comes back from ACL surgery. Wright fits the mold of a “move” tight end in the Patriots’ system, a role that once featured Aaron Hernandez. Wright isn’t much of a blocker, which doesn’t matter in the Patriots’ two-tight end system. I’m sure they value his potential in this offense. In my opinion, he’s not just a throw-in.
As for the Bucs, the trade for Mankins certainly makes them better. Things were so bad at both guard spots (Oniel Cousins, Jamon Meredith) that they gave former Dolphins guard Richie Incognito a look. Mankins’ leadership and legendary toughness will point the team in the right direction under first-year coach Lovie Smith.