Well, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots organization always seem to come through for their fans in creating intrigue. This year’s surprise: trading away one of the most polished offensive guards in the league, a six time all-pro, for a player that went undrafted in 2013 and who is no sure bet to click in the Patriots offense. Today’s trade of Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers doesn’t quite equate to Belichick’s famous release of Lawyer Milloy prior to the start of the 2003 season, but it’s pretty damn close. Not only is Mankins one of the best guards ever to play in Foxboro, but he’s also one of Tom Brady’s most loyal protectors, so one can assume that moving him doesn’t sit that well with the star quarterback.
It’s no secret that the Patriots are thin at the tight end position and bringing in Tim Wright, a player who showed an ability to be featured in the passing game last year in Tampa Bay, provides the team another potential option for Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense. The trade for Wright also represents the failure of the Patriots to develop a number of young tight ends throughout training camp and the preseason and, of course, to not draft one in the first place. But the curious thing about this trade is that if the Patriots really wanted Wright or another tight end of his caliber, did they really have to give up a player of Logan Mankins’ stature to get him? The Patriots probably could have gotten Wright for an offensive lineman on the roster other than Mankins, so why did they decide to move the pro bowl guard?
There are a few potential reasons the team might have been interested in moving on from Mankins and one is, quite simply, money. The organization may feel that it has quality young talent at guard and the relative advantage of keeping Mankins on the roster is just not high enough to rationalize his salary, which is significant. Mankins was set to count for 10.5 million against the Patriots’ salary cap in 2014, per OvertheCap.com. According to ESPN, the Patriots will save 6.25 million this year and 7 million next year by shipping Mankins to Tampa Bay. Saving money for next year is always valuable, but the Patriots certainly could have gotten by with Mankins’ cap hit this year.
So why did the Patriots feel the need to move Mankins and create so much cap space this year? One possibility is that the Mankins’ trade is just the first chip to fall and that the Patriots are trying to engineer another trade prior to the start of the season. It’s no secret the team is actively shopping its backup quarterback, Ryan Mallett, but most analysts don’t consider it likely that the Patriots would get much more than a middle round draft pick for Mallett at this point. That makes it pretty unlikely that Belichick and company could put together a package to make a splash with a player like Andre Johnson, although one can dream. Johnson’s cap numbers for this year and next also make that unlikely. Another possibility is that the Patriots want some flexibility against the salary cap going into the season in the event they want to make a run at convincing someone like Tony Gonzalez to come out of retirement.
Of course, it’s very possible that this is just business as usual for the Patriots. Mankins is an aging star and the team is well known for getting rid of players before they start to decline, not after. This move is certainly consistent with that mentality. Regardless, don’t be shocked if this isn’t the last surprise as the team begins to pare down its roster to 53 men before the 4:00 pm deadline on Saturday.