|What’s next for Logan Mankins and the Patriots?||10.20.10 at 12:54 am ET|
With the 2010 trading deadline now come and gone, it appears that, barring the unlikely decision to release him, the Patriots and Logan Mankins are now stuck with each other, at least for the rest of this season.
As a restricted free agent, Mankins is in limbo because technically, he’s an unsigned player, which made him difficult to trade. But according to several reports, New England’ s asking price — a first- or a second-round pick for the Pro Bowl guard, who is seeking a deal worth roughly $8 million annually — was simply too rich for any team that might have been interested.
So what does this mean for both sides? The next date to mark on the calendar is Nov. 16 (27 days from Wednesday), the deadline for Mankins to sign his tender and report by in order to accrue the time he’ll presumably need to reach unrestricted free agency next year. If he doesn’t, he’ s likely taking a big chance — with no current labor agreement in place, Mankins faces a world of uncertainty.
Depending on what happens with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are several long-term possibilities for Mankins (including the chance that, if he does sign, the Patriots using a possible franchise tag to keep him in place for 2011 as well). But for now, let’ s focus on the short term, specifically, the rest of the 2010 season.
Mankins is a world-class offensive lineman, someone who, in his five previous seasons in New England, developed a rock-solid reputation as a genuine Pro Bowler. But even if he does report in time to get the time needed to count toward free agency, as well as the New England offensive line has played for the first five weeks of the season, there’ s no indication that he would be able to crack the starting lineup. It seems remarkable to say this, but Mankins would have a fight on his hands, as Dan Connolly has done a more than serviceable job at left guard in Mankins’ absence. In what can best be described as a tribute to Connolly and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, the line has yielded eight sacks through the first five games of the season — tied for fifth-lowest in the league.
Some of that is tied to a belief — one the Patriots adhere to — that a successful offensive line is tied to chemistry and continuity, and with the same five players (Left tackle Matt Light, Connolly at left guard, center Dan Koppen, right guard Stephen Neal and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer) having taken almost 100 percent of the snaps as a unit this year, that level of familiarity that’ s been built up over the course of the 2010 is clearly a strength for the current group.
For what it’s worth, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has noted on multiple occasions this season that Connolly’s contributions have also included standout work on special teams. In the wake of the win over the Bills earlier in the season, Belichick noted that Connolly was the only player on the field during a key four-play sequence at the end of the first half — a 32-yard kick return, back-to-back pass plays of 29 and 13 yards, and a 43-yard field goal in a span of 19 seconds.
“Kickoff return, he’s right at the point of attack on the wedge, and then the two pass plays [at left guard], and then a field goal where they overloaded the rush and came right over his side. [He was] the only guy really that was on the field for all four of those plays was kind of right at the point of attack on all four of them,” Belichick said. “That was a big series in the game.”
If there is an injury between now and Nov. 16 — particularly along the interior of the offensive line — that would be a different story. While the Patriots do have some depth (and some versatility there), the backup offensive line nearly got backup quarterback Brian Hoyer killed at several stages of the preseason, including the preseason finale against the Giants where Hoyer was left bloodied and bruised after a few nasty hits.
But as things currently stand, even if Mankins does return by mid-November, whether it’ s because Connolly stands in his way or he hasn’t had sufficient time to get into game shape, it’s hard to imagine he’ll have much of an impact in the fortunes of the 2010 Patriots.
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