- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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For Patriots fans tired of reading about contract disputes, this week's mailbag will be a disappointment. A significant chunk of it is devoted to Logan Mankins and the Patriots, as Mankins let his displeasure be known Monday with some strong comments.
Mankins' stance led to a barrage of questions to the mailbag.
An attempt was made to look at the issue from both sides, while factoring in some of the issues involved.
On the football field, this is a big week for the Patriots as they hold their mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday. The idea is to finish this important phase of the offseason program strong as it's the final time the team will be together before training camp.
Let's get to the questions ...
Q: Mike, I'll get right to the point. Does Logan Mankins get his wish to be traded and considering the uncertain labor climate, do you think this is the wrong time for him to take such a hard-line stance? -- Dean (Taunton, Mass.)
A: Dean, I don't have a crystal ball on this one in terms of Mankins getting his wish to be traded. If a team is willing to give up a first-round draft choice or an impact player in return, I'd say yes. But I don't think anyone can project that right now. As for if I think this is the wrong time for him to take such a hard-line stance, I don't feel comfortable telling a player what's right or wrong in situations like these. I'd just say that if a player or team feels strongly enough about something, I respect their willingness to back what they believe in, whether it's holding the line or agreeing to a slightly discounted market deal to provide themselves long-term security. Everyone is different in terms of what is important to them.
Q: Mankins publicly bashes the Patriots and says they made a promise to give him a deal and they didn't deliver and he now wants out. Now other reports indicate that Mankins was offered $7 million per year with a big signing bonus. What on earth is he thinking? The deal seemed fair. My question is, how does this work out with him since he's unsigned? Can we trade him? -- Michael (Hull, Mass.)
A: Michael, it sounds to me like Mankins' frustration comes from having played out the fifth and final year of his contract in 2009 at what he felt was an undervalued salary. Because of that, he was anticipating the Patriots would make it up to him with a top-of-the-market type of offer this year. While $7 million per year offer sounds like a top-of-the-market deal, it really can't be fully analyzed unless we see the structure and bonus payments. Somewhere along the line in the communication process, Mankins developed an expectation along these lines, and I think that's what has him steamed. In terms of a possible trade, the Patriots could speak to other teams about Mankins. If parameters were in place for a trade, the team could then allow Mankins to negotiate a contract. Once that was done, Mankins would have to sign a contract in New England to consummate the trade, because a player without a contract can't be traded.
Q: Mike, I have an unresolved contract-related question for you. I'm no expert, but $7 million/season seems an awful lot for a guard, albeit a stallion like Mankins. Is it possible that the price tag for offensive linemen has become inflated due to so many stud linemen annually going so high in the draft? Thus, dudes like Mankins and Jahri Evans can look at Jake Long's rookie contract and demand more than they're worth. Or do you think that's a fair price tag for an o-lineman? -- Gabriel (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
A: Gabriel, I think the $7 million average for guards is less about the draft and players like Long and more about free-agent signings by Steve Hutchinson, Derrick Dockery, Eric Steinbach, Alan Faneca, Leonard Davis and Evans over the past four to five years. They helped set the top-of-the-line guard market at $7 million to $8 million per season.
Q: Mike, I don't understand Mankins' issue with the Pats. If the reports are true that he was being offered $7 million a year for 5 years, that is top-5 guard money. That is more than fair. He is a very good guard but not a game-changer. And guard is not as important as tackle despite escalating salaries. The Pats won Super Bowls with Andruzzi and Hochstein. They will survive. I'd rather spend the money on the d-line and Brady. -- Matt (Connecticut)
A: Matt, we need more information to analyze the reported $7 million per year deal in its complete context. What is the structure of the deal, and how much of it was in a bonus and guarantees? Because we don't know that, it's hard to really analyze fairly. For example, the Patriots could be offering Mankins a five-year, $35 million deal with little bonus money, tacking the five-year deal on the end of this year's $3.26 million salary (which could be viewed as a six-year deal, lowering the per-year average). Maybe there are deferred payments. Maybe it's all up-front money, and it's just not viewed by Mankins as aggressive enough. Without knowing this information, I simplify my thoughts by saying a negotiation is a two-way street. The sides need to work harder to find a middle ground.
Q: Mr. Mankins questions the Patriots and their word? He says he was playing out an undervalued contract? He signed the original contract under the advice of his agent. Doesn't he have an obligation to fulfill the terms of that contract before seeking another? If the Patriots fulfilled the terms of the contract by paying him an agreed amount for an agreed amount of time, then who really is being less than honest, Mr. Mankins or the Patriots? If he underperformed during the agreed terms of the contract, would he feel the same? Would he give money back? Would he claim the contract overvalued? Signing a contract as a rookie is full of risks for both the team and the player. These players need to shut up and fulfill the terms of the contract that they and their agents agreed to. You can't have it both ways. The terms of the union agreement work under the same principle. You are part of the union. You can't pick and choose what is best for you individually. Suck it up Mankins and honor your word. -- Bruce Berger (Augusta, Maine)
A: Bruce, last I checked, veteran cornerback Shawn Springs was not giving back the $4.55 million the Patriots paid him last season (receiving little bang for their buck). So I get your point. I also see what you are saying about the players union and how Mankins is being hurt by the uncapped season. There are a lot of layers to these situations and I think your thoughts highlight the management side of the equation.
Q: Mike, I wanted to point out that Jahri Evans and Logan Mankins situations are not exactly comparable. Evans entered the league as a fourth-round draft pick while Mankins was a first-rounder. Both were compensated fairly according to their draft position. The difference is Evans far exceeded the expectations for his rookie contract, and Mankins played the way a first-round guard should be expected to play. In my opinion the Saints overpaid Evans when they negotiated his new contract, but there is a possibility that the Saints were acting in good faith and compensating Evans for outplaying his rookie deal. After seeing the way Wilfork handled his negotiations and franchise tag last year, I don't have too much respect for Mankins and the way he is handling his situation. I have no problem with the Patriots trading him to another team, but then the question becomes, can we get a player at a position of need in return or will we just get something in the neighborhood of a late first/early second? -- Jason (Denver)
A: Jason, thanks for sharing the thoughts on Evans and Mankins. I will put on my management cap and think from a Patriots perspective. If Mankins came to me and said, "I would like a deal similar to Evans," my response might be, "They paid Evans as if he was on the open market, and we're not prepared to do that. Just because another team made that decision doesn't mean we can. But we feel like we have a competitive offer at this stage of the negotiating process. We understand if you want to wait until next year and try to cash in for an Evans-type deal, but this is the best we can do right now." Sometimes the sides agree in situations like those. Sometimes they don't. In this case, it looks like the latter. As for what the Patriots could get for Mankins, I'd think a draft pick is more likely.
Q: The Logan Mankins trade demand has so many implications on the Patriots, but I am wondering about how it impacts that locker room chemistry, something which has been such a hot topic this offseason. Do you think the current players will view this situation as the Patriots again not rewarding someone for their excellence, or do you think the team's financial commitment to other players (Banta-Cain, Wilfork, Bodden, etc.) has broken the perception of the Patriots as "cheap"? -- Kartal (Denver)
A: Kartal, I don't think it's fair to call the Patriots cheap; they dished out some big-time cash this year, and they've opened the vault plenty of times in the past. For the most part, I think they spend smartly. I think the Mankins issue could stunt some of the positive momentum the team had generated when it comes to locker-room chemistry and that will be something to monitor. At the same time, it seems like we've been down this road before. As much as I thought trading Deion Branch would hurt them in that area, the team still advanced to the AFC Championship game that year. I think this team has enough veterans to overcome it, but it's obviously an unwanted distraction.
Q: Mike, I am a little confused about Logan Mankins's statement: "After the 2008 season, me and my agent approached the Patriots about an extension, and I was told that Mr. Kraft did not want to do an extension because of the [uncertain collective bargaining agreement]. I was asked to play '09 out, and that they would address the contract after the uncapped year. I'm a team player; I took them at their word; and I felt I played out an undervalued contract." The uncapped year is 2010, correct? So if the Patriots are addressing the issue at the end of this season, then they are not still "keeping their word"? Was this a misquote of Mankins or am I missing something about why he is frustrated? -- Dave B. (San Francisco)
A: Dave, I had misquoted him, which was later edited after I re-checked. He had said during the uncapped year, not after. That was my error.
Q: Mike, Logan Mankins said what he said and that's on him, but I am wondering what is Frank Bauer's history as an agent negotiating with the Patriots and the NFL in general? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)
A: David, Frank Bauer is a veteran agent who was first certified in 1986. I am not sure his history in deals with the Patriots, but he's no stranger to the NFL negotiating table.
Q: Mike, just read your article on Mankins and obviously that's shocking news about his trade demand. Would you conclude the two sides are at an impasse? -- Neil (South Boston, Mass.)
A: That's my sense, Neil. I didn't get the feeling that this was a back-and-forth type of negotiation.
Q: Mike, if Mankins wants to be traded so much, why in the world did he damage his trade value with his public outburst? Anyone negotiating with the Pats will figure that NE has no leverage and will low-ball. Not real smart if that's his objective. Any chance we might see Mankins in Game 1? Cincinnati is crying for a left guard. -- Pete (London)
A: Pete, I don't think Mankins' remarks hurt his trade value. I see it slightly differently; it sends a loud message to the 31 other teams that he might be available and generates quick interest in him.
Q: What is the possibility of sliding Matt Light inside to guard, having Sebastian Vollmer at LT and keeping Nick Kaczur at RT? Light struggled at RT, but wouldn't keeping him on the left side be an easier adjustment in terms of footwork? He has the athleticism to pull but has slowed against speed rushers and if the transition was successful. I have never heard of this as a possibility. Is it plausible if the Mankins situation becomes untenable? -- Greg (Clifton, Va.)
A: I think it's possible, Greg, but I don't see it as option No. 1 at this time. Right now, my sense is that the coaching staff views Light as the best option at left tackle, Vollmer at right tackle and Kaczur sliding inside to guard.
Q: Hi Mike, I know there is an undercurrent of belief that the Patriots are sliding backwards towards the pack. I'm not buying it. It seems to me that the Patriots will reap the benefits of the second year in the system by a very good rookie class. I know there are questions about outside linebacker, but this one unknown on defense seems to get too much attention. I remember the year we were so short in the secondary that we put Troy Brown out there and that turned out okay (3 out of 4). I believe that the AFC East still goes through the Patriots. Thoughts? -- Mike (Fishers, Ind.)
A: I agree, Mike. I think one of the challenging parts for analysts looking at the Patriots is that there are a lot of young players who are not household names in the NFL. One example is cornerback Darius Butler. I think he's on his way to becoming a very good player, sort of like Asante Samuel was before his 2006 season. I'm excited to see how players like Butler, Patrick Chung and Sebastian Vollmer grow into their roles.
Q: Mike, I hear a lot of talk about Tom Brady and his contract situation but haven't heard much about Peyton Manning. What are the Colts doing that is different than the Pats, or is Brady the "hotter topic" at the moment? -- Alex (Rome, N.Y.)
A: Alex, I don't see anything that the Colts are doing differently than the Patriots when it comes to Manning. Part of the reason you might have heard more about Brady was Michael Silver's Yahoo Sports report a few weeks ago about a "growing sense of disconnect" between the Patriots and Brady. Otherwise, it seems to me like both teams are in the same situation.
Q: With Aaron Schobel possibly wanting to retire rather than play for a losing Buffalo, do you think it is possible the Patriots acquire him for a low draft pick? Maybe they could get Buffalo to trade him rather than him just retiring and getting nothing? My thought would be Schobel may want to play for a winner, and I see him as a Vrabel/Taylor clone with a lot of gas in the tank. There should be no question about his ability to get to the QB, and BB always talked about his versatility in the past. Also would give them better options when they play 4-3 not just 3-4. -- Mark Davis (Boston)
A: Mark, I think Schobel still has a lot to offer as a 4-3 defensive end. He'd also help the Patriots' pass rush. If this was an option, I'd pounce. Reading media reports about Schobel, it seems like he's looking for some family-type considerations to return home to be with his family at times during the season (almost like Roman Phifer had in New England). But something tells me Buffalo wouldn't trade him in the division.
Q: Hey Mike, how do you see the addition of the new defensive assistant coach Corwin Brown helping the progress of the young players in the secondary? I know he coached at Notre Dame and we signed Sergio Brown, an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame. Do you think Sergio Brown could be a surprise player? -- Emerson (Newark, Del.)
A: Emerson, I see Brown having an important role on this year's staff because he will be working with two of the team's young playmakers in safeties Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung. I sense Meriweather's excitement in having a former player coaching him because there is a strong connection there. At the same time, I want to be careful about overrating the importance of a defensive assistant. I remember predicting big things with the addition of Dom Capers in 2008, and it didn't unfold the way I thought it would. As for Sergio Brown, I see him as a strong practice squad candidate at this point and a player who will need to shine on special teams to stand out.
Q: Hi Mike, why didn't the Patriots draft Toby Gerhart from Stanford? To me, he was made for them. He runs hard, and he wouldn't have gotten overworked because they don't run a lot. -- Jay (Scranton, S.C.)
A: Jay, you think along the same lines as Tedy Bruschi. He was hoping for Gerhart as well. I'm not sure the specifics, but my sense on Gerhart and running backs in general is that the Patriots had other situations that trumped them going there (e.g., tight end, outside linebacker, trades). In the end, I don't think Gerhart was their type of guy because of ball-security and speed downgrades.
Q: Hey, Mike, the Chargers signed free-agent receiver Josh Reed, and it is being reported as a fallback plan for Vincent Jackson. From what I remember, Reed did not want to sign with New England because he only wanted to play the slot. Jackson plays out wide, so how does this all fit together? Did Reed just not want to play for New England? -- Jason (Denver)
A: Jason, part of the reason Reed didn't want to come to New England was because he feels he's best suited in the slot, not because he only wanted to play in the slot. Here in New England, I think Reed saw a young player in Julian Edelman along with Wes Welker's return and felt his opportunities would be limited in the slot. In San Diego, he is probably more likely to play in the slot but adds insurance on the outside if Jackson does not report.
Q: Mike, how would you rate Matthew Slater as a non-special teams player? He has some real experience both at wide receiver and safety, and which is his natural position? – MarkJ (Japan)
A: MarkJ, I see Slater as a depth option at both of those positions. If he's playing at either spot, it's probably an emergency situation or at the end of a game that is already decided. So far this offseason, Slater has worked mostly at receiver from what I've seen. I'd say he's probably more of a natural receiver than safety.
Q: Hey Mike, do you know when Patriots tickets are going on sale to the general public? I haven't heard anything yet for this year. -- Cory (Lexington, Mass.)
A: Cory, the Patriots have announced that remaining 2010 individual game tickets will go on sale Monday, June 21 at noon ET.