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I am going to preface this column by saying that I love Logan Mankins. He is a great player and one of the best guards in the National Football League. I remember when he was first drafted by the Patriots in 2004, and shouts of incredulity rose up from the mouths of the red, white and blue faithful. Who is this guy? Mankins over Justin Miller? Some random third round type selection at the end of the first? What gives?
Logan is probably the second best offensive guard in Patriots history after John Hannah. He is a road grader who embodies everything that the Patriots brass look for in a player. He has a mean streak, he is versatile, and he is powerful. His hands are deft and he is a presence in the locker room. He is, in essence, a perfect Patriot.
And this is precisely why it is now his time to leave.
Mankins is a great player, as I have already said, and it will be a shame to see him go. However, the Patriot theory of player value states that when a player is considered a higher commodity for the rest of the league rather than the team that he actually plays on, then that player has to be sold for the highest possible value.
Mankins, of course, is making a stink about not being paid as highly as guys like Jahri Evans, the Saints OG who signed a 7 year, 56 million dollar deal this past offseason. To be fair, Evans is younger and better than Mankins, but Logan still has some leverage in his corner. He can point to Pro Bowl berths. He can point to the Patriots running 73 percent of their running plays either up the middle or through his tackle/guard gap last year. He can point to his meager sack totals; only two players got through Mankins to sack Tom Brady last year.
However, the more he points, the more it becomes apparent that the Patriots have to trade him away. Right now. They need to search the market, find a taker, and then let him go.
It is the best move, both fiscally and developmentally.
The Patriots have done this kind of thing before. They let Adam Vinatieri and Willie MacGinest walk. David Givens was a seventh-round value pick in 2003, and even though he holds the record of most consecutive playoff games with a touchdown reception, the Patriots had no qualms about letting him walk in his contract year. They got a first round pick from the Seattle Seahawks for Deion Branch in 2006. Even before Mankins, popular offensive guard Joe Andruzzi was a mainstay on the offensive line. First chance the Patriots got, they let him test the market and would not pony up for a large, long-term deal.
The Patriots are like a team of farmers. They milk a cow for all that is financially responsible, and then they ship it off to another farmer who thinks that there is still enough fluid left to sustain him. Branch, for example, had may great years in Foxboro. He even won the Super Bowl MVP award in 2004. However, the team saw that the market on wide receivers had risen to such a extent that it would take away resources from other parts of the team to keep Branch around. So they shopped him and traded him to Seattle. With the pick acquired in that trade, they drafted Brandon Meriweather. It is a warped, wavering circle of life.
Mankins is even more likely to glean a positive response from trade overtures than Branch. He has a bit more of an established track record and in this new era of running backs by committee, power backs seem to be coming back into fashion a bit more as opposed to the past couple of years. This necessitates, in the minds of many coaches, strong guards to anchor an up-the-middle running game. The Patriots, on the other hand, think differently.
The Patriots understand, as well, that the position of offensive guard is not one of the most valuable on the field. In fact, it may be one of the least important. Consider the playoff teams that focused on the running game this past season. The New York Jets are probably the most famous, and their guards were the rapidly declining Alan Faneca who was so bad that he was cut over the draft weekend, and Brandon Moore, who is decent but certainly not anything to write home about. Baltimore was another run heavy team, and their guards worked in a three man rotation. Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda and Chris Chester are all certainly capable athletes, but are any of them as good as Mankins is?
Look at the two Super Bowl teams. The Colts’ starting guards were Kyle DeVan, a late round rookie from Idaho, and Ryan Lilja, who is fringe top 20 at the position by most analysts. The Saints certainly provide a counterexample in the aforementioned Evans, but who started opposite him? None other than Carl Nicks, a fifth round rookie. A great guard can certainly enhance a team, but it should never come at the expense of other more important positions.
Even more importantly, the Patriots already have the solution to the hole at offensive guard on their roster. Short term, Nick Kaczur would fill the slot brilliantly. His main weakness at right tackle was dealing with speed rushers like Robert Mathis (who blistered him in the Indianapolis/New England game) and Justin Tuck (who owned him in the Super Bowl loss against the Giants in 2007.) If he is moved to the inside and played in a phone booth, it would instantly make him a top 10 guard in the NFL. Seriously. His strengths, power and technique, would be put to great use as a guard. He would not have to face speed rushers anymore; instead, he would merely have to push people aside, something he is comfortable doing.
Kaczur is locked up for the short-term as well. He sports a cost-effective three year deal where, at a maximum, he will receive 4.1 million dollars. That is a bargain. However, after those three years, the Patriots already have their replacement in-house: Rich Ohrnburger. Remember the Penn State offensive lineman that Belichick traded up for in last year’s draft? Apparently, he’s very, very good. Coach Belichick does not pull the trigger to trade up for prospects unless he sees something special in him, and that is especially true for offensive linemen. He has a tremendous history with developing linemen into solid starters (See: Ashworth; Tom, Neal; Stephen, Gorin; Brandon, etc.). Once Ohrnburger sees a bit more practice time, I think he could be a very good player in the future. The Patriots also have other options in George Bussey and Ted Larsen, not to mention a plethora of picks in upcoming drafts to select even more offensive line depth.
In essence, Logan Mankins is a great player. He is tough and talented. It will be hard to replace him.
However, it is more than possible to do so in an efficient manner. And if that means getting three first round picks in the loaded 2011 NFL Draft, I am all for the trade.
- Ethan Hammerman