This week’s trade of six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins from the New England Patriots to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have a significant impact on both teams and, potentially, on the playoff race in each conference.
The Buccaneers addressed their most glaring need and perhaps became a legitimate contender for a spot in the NFC’s postseason field. The Patriots clearly were a leading playoff contender in the AFC prior to the deal being completed Tuesday. That remains the case. But now they become a little bit more of a work in progress, with new questions about their offensive line but also some intriguing possibilities involving the second-year tight end they obtained from the Buccaneers, Tim Wright (along with a fourth-round draft choice next year).
“I think it’s a win-win,” former San Francisco 49ers guard Randy Cross said Wednesday.
The Buccaneers had some good pieces already in place in Coach Lovie Smith’s first season with the team. But the interior of the offensive line had been a trouble spot, particularly after the team reached an injury settlement with Carl Nicks and released the guard last month. The dire situation led the team to meet Monday with free agent guard Richie Incognito, a central figure in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room bullying scandal last season.
Incognito left without being signed and the Buccaneers added Mankins, who had played his entire nine-year career with Patriots and was a team captain in New England in each of the last three seasons. Mankins is 32. But the sentiment around the league seems to be that he remains an effective player and he is a familiar face to Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht, formerly the director of pro personnel for the Patriots.
“I do think Logan still has got some years left,” Cross, now a football analyst for the CBS Sports Network, said by telephone. “I still think he’s a good guard. I think that’s a huge positive for them.”
The Buccaneers were willing to absorb a contract that pays Mankins salaries of $6.25 million this season and $6.75 million in each of the following two seasons. The Patriots reportedly had discussed a possible reworking of the deal with Mankins but had not come to an agreement on that.
The move saves the Patriots nearly $5.8 million in salary cap space this season. Coach Bill Belichick never has been afraid to make bold, unexpected moves involving high-profile players, the kinds of tough and unsentimental decisions that are necessary for a franchise to sustain success in the salary cap era.
Just as Belichick once released cornerback Ty Law and safety Lawyer Milloy, just as he previously traded defensive lineman Richard Seymour, wide receiver Randy Moss and linebacker Mike Vrabel, he dealt Mankins. The business relationship between the Patriots and Mankins had been strained at times. Mankins and the team had a lengthy contract dispute in 2010 in which Mankins did not report to the club until the seventh week of the season.
In Wright, the Patriots get a skilled pass catcher who had 54 receptions for the Buccaneers last season as an undrafted rookie. Belichick possibly received a favorable recommendation about Wright from his friend Greg Schiano, who coached Wright in college at Rutgers and last season in Tampa. Schiano was a guest of Belichick at the Patriots’ training camp this summer.
The Patriots undoubtedly are hoping to have the same success in pairing Wright with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski that they once had in their two-tight-end formations featuring Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
“Can he do what Hernandez did for them?” Cross said. “They needed to address that because that offense was dang near unstoppable when they had that dynamic with those two tight ends. … [But] I was definitely surprised because Logan was such a presence in that locker room.”
It makes for a major transition for the offensive line that will protect quarterback Tom Brady as he chases a fourth career Super Bowl triumph in tandem with Belichick. The unit already was adjusting to life without longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who retired in the offseason and was replaced by Dave DeGuglielmo. Now second-year pro Josh Kline could take over for Mankins at left guard.
Cross said he doesn’t necessarily worry more now about Brady’s blockers, however.
“Not any more than I already did,” Cross said. “It’s still a question how they’ll handle a physical defense, just like it was before.”