Commentary

Will Patriots let Mankins get away?

While the Jets loss still stings, fans are starting to wonder what's ahead

Updated: February 1, 2011, 10:07 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

DALLAS -- The future of offensive lineman Logan Mankins was the hottest topic in this week's Patriots mailbag. It's another year and another big contract situation to address.

Meanwhile, there was a heavy emphasis on the wide receiver position. From Plaxico Burress to Chad Ochocinco to draft prospects, various possibilities were presented. I could see the Patriots adding a receiver, but I don't think it's a given.

I'm here in Dallas for the week of activity leading up to Super Bowl XLV and word is that rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski will be here for some media appearances with his brothers. Receiver Wes Welker said he was planning to attend, and owner Robert Kraft is scheduled to make his annual appearance toward the end of the week.

Let's get right to the mailbag...

Q. Clearly, Logan Mankins believes Robert Kraft broke a trust when he went public with Mankins' private apology. Kraft's comments likely prevented any chance for a contract to get done this past year. The Patriots will need to repair the trust if they want to sign Mankins without using the franchise tag. Based on the value Mankins brings to the team, and the respect he has earned from his teammates and peers, the Patriots would be wise to do so. Your thoughts? -- Paul (Lexington, Mass.)

[+] EnlargeLogan Mankins
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesIf the Pats franchise Logan Mankins, he could wait until the last moment to sign the deal, which would mean he'd miss half the season again.

A. Paul, I'm not buying that Kraft's comments prevented a contract extension from being consummated this year. I think it simply comes down to the dollars. If the Patriots put a Jahri Evans-type deal on the table, I think it's signed by Mankins tomorrow. I agree with your thoughts that the Patriots would be wise to work hard to strike an extension with Mankins, and extend themselves beyond the five-year, $35 million offer they reportedly made. If they are willing to place the franchise tag on Mankins at a one-year cost of around $10 million, I think a fair middle ground would be a six-year, $48 million contract with $26 million in the first three years.

Q. Mike, the Boston Herald quoted Logan Mankins saying that Robert Kraft "told everyone" about his apology, which means that the Pats really blew it by trying to stick his nose in it by demanding a public apology while he had already done so privately. Is Kraft willing to make Mankins the highest-paid guard in football to rebound from his gaffe, or does our OL look like Swiss cheese next year with question marks already at LT and RG. Apologies Mike, but this time, "there must be give and take on both sides" doesn't hack it. Pats blew it, Logan has the edge. Thoughts? -- Pete (London)

A. Pete, I'm not sure of Kraft's mindset in terms of how he views the Mankins situation from a future perspective. On the whole, I'm having a challenging time understanding why it would be so hard to consummate a deal, other than waiting for the new collective bargaining agreement. Mankins is a top player at his position. I think he's earned a top contract. The Patriots could franchise him at $10 million for one season, but that defeats the purpose of what should be the goal for both sides -- a long-term contract extension. Why not just draw up a Jahri Evans-type contract, which would have $26 million within the first three years, and extend the deal for six years? That seems to make sense if the Patriots were thinking about assigning him the franchise tag.

Q. Hey Mike, what are the chances Logan Mankins stays in New England next year? Can Robert Kraft get over his ego and give Mankins the money he wants (and deserves)? And does Mankins' future as a Patriot decide whether or not the Pats take a premier offensive lineman like Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi in the first round? -- John (Knoxville, Tenn.)

A. John, I don't think the Patriots are going to let Mankins go away without getting something for him. So at the least, I would expect the franchise tag for Mankins. Under that scenario it's possible that Mankins could wait until the last moment to sign his tender, which would mean he wouldn't be showing up until halfway through the season again. So I think the Patriots will have that in mind and would draft an interior offensive lineman regardless.

Q. If the Patriots place the franchise tag on Logan Mankins, does he just hold out again? And will they consider this in making the decision to place the tag on him? He's already said it wouldn't make him too happy, so I really question whether they should go that route, if it's only going to be for half a season again. -- I. Helper

A. At first, I thought it would be a given that Mankins would hold out again if he was assigned the franchise tag, similar to his approach this past season when he didn't sign his restricted free-agent tender. But with the tag projected to be around $10 million, I wonder if that might change his mindset. I think the Patriots will be looking at it as protecting their asset, and they won't allow the possibility that Mankins reports late affect their decision-making process.

Q. Hey Mike, what are your thoughts about the Patriots using their 17th overall pick on Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue? He's a great pass rusher and I think he could play a solid DE or even OLB for the Pats. If he's still on the board, should they take him? -- George (Oxford, Mass.)

A. George, there is some question as to whether Kerrigan is a good fit at outside linebacker in the 3-4, but what we know for certain is that he can rush the passer as a 4-3 defensive end because that's what he did at Purdue. If he's the best rusher available, and there isn't a better player at another position, I'd make the pick because I think the Patriots need to come out of this draft with an improved pass rush. When I spoke with Pat Kirwan of Sirius NFL Radio here at the Super Bowl, he identified Kerrigan as one of three prospects at the Senior Bowl who stood out to him as someone who would fit best in the Patriots' scheme.

Q. Hey Mike, with two picks in the first three rounds, do you see the Patriots trading down or doing any kind of trade to upgrade their roster this offseason? Also do you see them picking Mike Pouncey to be their guard or center of the future? -- Paul X. (Warwick, R.I.)

A. Paul, I think we can expect to see some form of wheeling and dealing from the Patriots on draft day. That's the way they roll. I think it's more likely that the trades would involve draft picks instead of veteran players. As for Pouncey, I think he's one of the safer picks in the first round. You can probably slide him in at guard from Day 1 and know that position is taken care of, and then see if he can emerge in time at center. I think addressing defensive needs might be a better way to go with the top pick, but if the right player is there, and Pouncey is the selection, that would still be solid in my view.

Q. Hey Mike, why are you so in love with Clay Matthews? I swear if you weren't married you would have proposed by now. Personally, I'd like to know if they even considered Mike Wallace over Brandon Tate in that same draft. I'm not ready to say Tate is a bust, but Wallace is a star and it's becoming more clear that the Pats simply do not know how to draft WRs. -- Rob (Carlsbad, Calif.)

A. Rob, I like the way Matthews plays the game and think he represents what the Patriots really need on defense -- a disruptive pass-rushing force. As for Wallace over Tate, here is what Bill Belichick said when asked about Wallace prior to the Patriots facing the Steelers in 2010: "I think Wallace is a top vertical receiver. He's a real fast player. There's some degree of questions on players like that on how much they can impact the game in the deep part of the field and if they can't, what their production will be when it's not a "go" route. ... So, part of that is a function of your offense and how you plan to use the player and part of it is a function of the player's skill and how much he's able to develop maybe the things you don't see in college when you ask him to run that on offense. So, that's part of the guesswork you do when you're drafting those players -- how much you project them to even be able to do or be able to improve. [It's] a very unscientific process, as we all know."

Q. Mike, I feel that Tom Brady has at least one more Super Bowl left in him. I so want to see him get that fourth ring. For me that is what he needs to go down as the greatest quarterback ever. I certainly believe we have the pieces to win that Super Bowl next year. What do you think? -- David C. (Dyersburg, Tenn.)

A. David, I think the Patriots are well positioned to be a Super Bowl contender. Brady is expected to be ready for the start of training camp, and with some defensive additions in the front seven and some interior help for the offensive line, I see this team getting stronger.

Q. I might be asking an obvious question, but hear me out: What loss is more difficult to swallow: the Super Bowl loss to the Giants or the loss to the Jets? For me, it's this loss against the Jets. They had steamrolled teams for the final eight weeks, only to get manhandled every which way, and then commit mental blunders. Which loss would you say is more difficult to swallow? -- Clinton O. (Westminster Station, Vt.)

A. I didn't have to think too hard on this one, Clinton. I went with the Super Bowl loss. To be so close to your goal and to come up short like that, it's the game that stands out to me more for the Patriots.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesWhich felt worse -- the Patriots' loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl or their playoff loss to the Jets?

Q. Mike I'm seeing a bad trend lately with the Pats. It's if they get smacked around early, they do not respond. Look at some of their losses. Cleveland came out and smacked them and they got behind. Same as the Jets did to them in the playoffs. They don't have that intimidating presence on the defense to hit back, like Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel used to do. I think they need to find those type of edgy players to bring back that attitude that helped them win three Super Bowls. Also, on offense, they need that battering ram runner like Corey Dillon and even Antowain Smith. Your thoughts? -- Bud S. (Laconia, N.H.)

A. Bud, I think those games were examples of the Patriots getting behind early and not responding, but I'd point to wins over the Ravens and Packers as games that produced different results when the team got behind. I think the defense just needs a few more players -- specifically an attitude-type pass rusher and another strong defensive end -- and the results should improve.

Q. Hey Mike, I've been a Patriots fan for a very long time, since 1969 with big Jim Nance in the backfield. I do believe strongly that they need to come out of that 3-4 defense, and get four good linemen that can get after it to complement some very active linebackers. Right now, their secondary can't sustain coverage with their blatant lack of a good pass rush. After their last appearance in the Super Bowl against New York, that should have opened their eyes. Four down linemen! -- DJ (St. Louis, Mo.)

A. DJ, one thing that stood out to me from the Patriots' 2010 season was the high percentage of plays the defense was in a sub package -- 57 percent of the time. They were only in the 3-4 for 40 percent of the snaps. With this in mind, I think they need to focus on getting a disruptive rush end. I still think they can keep the 3-4 as the base, but given how often they are in the sub packages, valuing players more who fit there will help.

Q. Mike, I've heard a lot of criticism of the Richard Seymour trade. Is this revisionist thinking? As I recall, his last few years he was nowhere near as dominant as he was earlier in his career because of injuries and age. As I recall, he wasn't drawing double teams very often and still wasn't collapsing the pocket and pressuring the QB. Is my memory starting to fail me? -- J. King (Andover, Mass.)

A. Joseph, Seymour played well for the Raiders this past season and looked closer to the force he had been at times in New England. At the same time, I think you bring up a good point. Seymour hadn't always been that player in his final few seasons in New England.

Q. What are the chances the Pats trade up to get Julio Jones? That loss to the Jets proved how much we need a playmaker on the edge who can beat good corners one on one. What's your take, and if not Julio Jones, who do you see filling that role? -- Mike (Merritt Island, Fla.)

A. Mike, I don't see the Patriots trading up for a receiver. While I thought the loss to the Jets looked like a case where they missed a bigger-play threat on the outer edges of the field, I also thought the offense looked pretty good in the eight games before that, games in which the Patriots scored more than 30 points each time. So I think it can be dangerous to look too closely into one game, and also believe the team has greater needs in other areas, specifically on the interior of the offensive line and at outside linebacker/rush defensive end and elsewhere along the defensive line. While some might say the Jets' plan could be duplicated by others, I think it's going to be tough to do because few teams have the strength at cornerback that the Jets do.

Q. Hi Mike, do you think the Pats will take a chance on Plaxico Burress? It seems to make sense for them to add speed and height to the WR group for Tom Brady to throw down field. It would also make it hard for the Jets to game-plan against them while saving draft picks for OL, DL and OLB needs. -- Jay N. (Mercer Island, Wash.)

A. Jay, I don't see the Patriots going after Burress because of the off-field component of the evaluation. Also, any veteran receiver that comes in potentially stunts the development of young receivers like Brandon Tate and Taylor Price and I think that will be a consideration.

Q. Is there a chance of Chad Ochocinco coming to New England in the near future as a big-play threat? -- Alex (Cambridge)

A. Alex, I credit Ochocinco for creating some buzz with the possibility, but I'd be surprised if he lands in New England. Besides the fact he's still under contract to the Bengals for 2011, I don't see the Patriots acquiring him because of how it would affect those younger receivers.

Q. Hey Mike, with the Patriots having two first-round draft picks, do you believe Boise State's WR Titus Young is a possibility? -- Matt (New York)

A. Matt, analysts view Young as a rising talent after the Senior Bowl and if we're looking at the No. 28 or 33 picks, I think it's possible if the Patriots don't think there are others available who would fill more pressing needs. That still might be a little rich for Young, but he's a name to keep on the radar.

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJulian Edelman was one of the bright spots in the Pats' playoff loss to the Jets.

Q. Mike, while I understand that Julian Edelman was buried on the depth chart, I can't figure out why that was. Yes, he made a couple of notable drops this year, but he should have been given more opportunities. He seems to be one of the few guys on this team that shows heart and "no quit" desire when adversity hits. And he is a spark, flat-out. I am not saying he should start over Welker or Branch, but utilize his strengths, run some bubble screens with him, get him in the open field, we know he can make people miss. I even heard some talk that he might be considered a "roster bubble" guy for 2011, which would be crazy in my opinion. Your thoughts? -- Vincent (Weston, Mass.)

A. Vincent, I don't see Edelman as a roster bubble guy in 2011; I think he's on the team. As for his playing time, looking back I thought that was one thing coaches could have tried differently in the playoff loss to the Jets. Edelman was one of the bright spots in the game and maybe getting him on the field more could have produced a spark. Overall, though, you have to ask the question: If Edelman is on the field, who is coming off? Considering the Patriots ran a majority of two-receiver sets this year, it would be either Deion Branch or Wes Welker. I think you want both of those guys on the field.

Q. What is Jason Taylor's contract status with the Jets? Bill Belichick has always admired him and I think he would be a good leader and example for the younger pass rushers. -- Nick (Hull, Mass.)

A. Nick, Taylor is under contract to the Jets for 2011, but he is due a big roster bonus that will require a renegotiation for him to return to the team. It seems like both sides are happy to do that, so it looks to me like Taylor will return to the Jets.

Q. Hi Mike, it was mentioned that the whole Patriots staff was at the Pro Bowl, so did the Pats still have scouts at the Senior Bowl? -- James

A. James, the Patriots had director of player personnel Nick Caserio and members of the scouting staff at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Q. Hi Mike, I count eight experienced defensive linemen -- Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright, Ron Brace, Myron Pryor, Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love. All of them seem to be at least somewhat useful. If the Pats draft/acquire two more, it seems like they'll have to cut three (assuming all are healthy). In this scenario, who goes? -- Peter (D.C.)

A. Peter, I agree that's a lot of quantity, assuming Gerard Warren is re-signed. I don't envision the Patriots drafting two linemen early in the draft -- one is more likely -- and then I think you let the competition play out to determine who stays. Wilfork and a potential first- or second-round pick would be the locks and then I'd go from there.

Q. Mike, with Jeff Fisher's departure from the Titans, what are the odds of Bill Belichick reaching out and trying to bring him on for next year? Would Fisher's defensive background be useful to Bill's up-and-coming defense or do you think the current staff has it covered? Would such a role be beneath Fisher? Thanks. -- James (Belmont, Mass.)

A. James, since Fisher has said that he needs to take a break, this won't happen with the Patriots or any other team. I also don't see Belichick and Fisher aligned in their approaches, which would also make such an alliance unlikely.

Q. Hello Mr. Reiss, could you please tell me what you majored in, in college? As a senior in high school, I am interested in pursuing the same career as you. -- Ramin K. (San Marcos, Texas)

A. Ramin, best of luck as you make the transition from high school to college. I majored in sports management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. It was a great experience. At the same time, I don't think that necessarily means that's the path someone would have to take to be a sports reporter. The most important thing I'd say is that no matter what you major in, try to get some field experience by writing for the college paper or local websites.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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