How do you see the Logan Mankins contract situation playing out, and what do you feel is the best way for the Patriots to handle it?
Rick: This seems like a past issue with the contracts of a Randy Moss or an Asante Samuel. If you do not want to be part of the TEAM, then you are gone. Mankins and owner Robert Kraft burned a ton of bridges last offseason. I can't see any way that Mankins will be back in a Patriot uniform next year. New England has depth at the offensive line position with Connolly, but there is not much else as we saw at the beginning of the year. They will miss Mankins' impact, but look at the job the coaching staff has done with Sebastian Vollmer. They can make a lineman into a good player and Brady didn't get sacked too many times the first 8 games. Right now, I say its a 85% chance Mankins is packing his bags somewhere else and you can blame both sides if that happens.
The team obviously wants Mankins back, and it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that they could figure out a price that everyone can live with. However, the Patriots made hefty investments in Brady and Wilfork the past two offseasons and will need to give Welker a new deal very soon, so I think they are wise to hold off on making another long-term commitment until they see what the new collective bargaining agreement holds. If teams can still use the franchise tag under the new CBA, that seems like a logical route. I could foresee the Pats giving him the same terms as Asante Samuel -- if he plays a certain percentage of snaps and/or the Patriots meet certain team performance benchmarks, the team will agree not to use the franchise tag again next year.
Rather than trading him, the more likely route would be keeping him for one more year and spending at least two draft picks on interior linemen to groom as a replacement for 2012. Unless the Patriots trade away multiple picks in this year's draft to stock up for next year, I don't think there is much value in trading Mankins for draft pick considerations in this year's draft. The team is already stocked with picks, so they are more likely to get more value out of one year of elite guard play and a compensatory pick in 2012 than they'd get out of an umpteenth rookie in camp.
Derek: I think the way Mankins has behaved during this contract dispute has been pretty ridiculous and my natural inclination would be to say "don't let the door hit you on the way out." However, unlike in years past where the Patriots have waived goodbye to players like Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, and Asante Samuel in order to position the team better in the future, it's time for the Patriots to realize that the future is now. How many years does Brady have left in him as a top flight quarterback? Four, five, six? It's time to stop stockpiling future assets and make a serious run for the Lombardi.
The Patriots offensive line is a big area of concern heading into this off-season. A lot of cornerstone players are growing old, and the unit as a whole hasn't exactly shined in the Patriots' last three playoff defeats. Losing their best and toughest lineman in Mankins would be a major step back as this team looks to retool for one final run at a dynasty. If the team can't reach an agreement with Mankins, I think they're pretty much forced to place the franchise tag on him. If nothing else, this will create a one-year stop gap at the guard position, and it gives the Patriots the ability to re-tool using the draft in 2011 and 2012. If Mankins bolts, you're left with Kaczur and his bad back, Dan Connolly, and whatever rookies come along in the draft to plug the two guard positions. That's not all that re-assuring. On the flip side, if you franchise Mankins, he will almost definitely play. I can't imagine he turn down $10 million dollars out of spite. A lineup from left to right of Light, Mankins, Koppen, (Pouncey?), and Vollmer is one that I'd feel comfortable going to war with if I were Tom Brady.
Ideally, the two sides would work out a long-term deal, but I'd be ok with a franchise tag and one more year of Mankins, or a tag and trade. Losing Mankins without any compensation would be yet another setback for this Patriots franchise looking to finally get back over the hump after six title-less seasons.