The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added one of the smartest, hardest-working, PFT-commenter-lunch-pail-to-workest players in the NFL. So why did the Patriots let their locker-room leader go? Bill Belichick talked about him in glowing terms. Tom Brady is pissed off about the trade. Pats fans seem a little peeved.
As in all things Bill Belichick, it boils down to value. Pro Football Talk reported yesterday that the Patriots had asked Mankins to take a pay cut before trading him. Mankins refused. Ultimately, that led to them trading him. To the extent that apparently, they offered him instead of the backup guard the Bucs actually called the Pats for.
So why was this not a concern for the Bucs? Why did they not blink at overpaying Mankins, and even giving up a player and a pick for the right to do so? The answer's not very surprising: they have a much bigger need at guard. Logan Mankins is a good player who makes the Patriots better, but they also have a strong group of interior linemen. Their line will be fine with or without Mankins. Meanwhile, the Bucs were looking at a total disaster of an interior line.
There are other reasons, too. Mankins' leadership and ability to function as a role model for other players is more valuable on the Bucs than on the Patriots, who have already established a long-running locker-room culture. Giving up Tim Wright is annoying, but not that big of a problem given the presence of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Myers. The cap space is also less of a concern for the Bucs, who have a healthy salary cap and have structured contracts to give themselves a lot of flexibility.
Are the Bucs still getting a Pro Bowl player in Mankins? Probably not. At 32, most guards have started their decline. They can generally hang on and be capable starters for a few years, and Mankins certainly looks like the kind of player who will do just that, but he won't be the close-to-dominant players he used to be. He wasn't even that player last year. The $6.5 million he's owed this year and the $14 million he's set to make over the subsequent two seasons is too much to pay for an above-average but far from dominant guard.
That's confirmed by Pro Football Focus, who still thought he was an above-average player last year, but who also think he's worth closer to $4.2 million per year. They gave him a +12.0 grade, which made him the 18th-best guard in the NFL last year. Pretty good, and a massive upgrade for the Bucs, but he's no longer an irreplaceable player.
Mankins' biggest problem probably stems from tearing his ACL in 2011 -- and actually playing on that torn ACL for an entire season. Greg Bedard explained Mankins' play pretty succinctly.
Mankins' play had slipped the past three years. While he was still one of the best run-blocking guards in the league (his pulling ability freed up many big runs down the stretch last season) his pass blocking had taken a hit, most likely because of assorted leg injuries. He no longer moves very well laterally in space; it was eye opening to watch him allow five sacks in back-to-back games against the Dolphins and Steelers last fall.
He's still a terrific run blocker, and he's smart and advanced enough in technique to compensate for a lot of his deficiencies in pass blocking, but those problems shows up repeatedly when watching him. Plays where he used to stonewall players are now plays where he can hold them off for a couple of seconds. And sometimes, rarely, he'll get beat off the snap. That's only going to get worse as he'll age.
But those issues are things the Bucs can live with and compensate for, and they're the kinds of issues successful teams deal with every season. Mankins will be a massive upgrade and a good, if flawed, starter. He'll allow the Bucs to worry about only one of their three interior line positions, and one flawed guard is easier to compensate for than two.
He'll bring leadership and a terrific example for players to follow to that locker room. He's been to Super Bowls. He knows what it takes to win. He can be one of those veterans who hangs around for a couple of years, plays well and helps mold the locker room. He could be one of the foundational pieces for a new era in Tampa Bay. Which is why giving up Tim Wright, a good chunk of salary cap space and a fourth-round pick for him makes sense.