FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With his agent calling it a "fresh start," All-Pro offensive lineman Logan Mankins will report to New England Patriots training camp Wednesday, clearing up one of the biggest questions facing the team.
Now comes another question. Could Mankins' approach be the catalyst to what seemed improbable over the last year -- a long-term contract extension?
It's too early to tell, especially with all the other business the Patriots must tend to, knocking it down the to-do list, but this certainly seems like a step in the right direction. Then consider that owner Robert Kraft was credited as a bridge builder in labor talks, and it's not far-fetched to think he could now take part in rebuilding the bridge with Mankins that at one point seemed all but torched.
At this point, we're playing a connect-the-dots game, but one could make a strong case for why the time will soon be right for both sides to strike an extension.
Start with the Patriots. Operating with a $120 million salary cap, Mankins accounts for a $10.1 million cap charge in accepting the one-year, $10.1 million franchise tag.
The club's willingness to pay him $10.1 million per season, easily the richest one-year contract for a guard in the NFL, speaks to how top decision-makers view him as a player. He's elite, still in his prime years.
So an extension with Mankins would actually help the team in two areas -- on the field and economically.
Not only would an asset like Mankins be signed for another five or so years, his salary cap charges would almost certainly be lowered in the early years of the deal, creating cap relief because the total dollars are spread out over a longer term.
As it stands now, Mankins and quarterback Tom Brady account for just shy of 20 percent of the Patriots' salary cap space. That's a lot for two players, especially on a team that values its "middle class" and building quality depth.
A Mankins extension at even the highest level would average $8 million per season, creating a minimum of $2 million of relief depending on how the money was distributed each year.
Now consider things from Mankins' perspective. While the $10.1 million is significant this year, it is less than what he would receive in bonuses and guarantees in an extension. Saints guard Jahri Evans, who tops the guard market, earned $25.7 million in the first three years of his new deal.
So this would be about risk management for Mankins. While the Patriots likely wouldn't extend themselves to Evans-type levels, let's say the numbers are in the $22-24 million range in the first three years. In that scenario, Mankins could earn more security while no longer assuming the risk to make it through another season healthy before getting his first crack at a bigger payday in unrestricted free agency.
Is that enough to get him to sign now, if the numbers are right?
If both sides are committed to a longer-term deal this year -- they were reportedly close last season before things broke down -- we'll know by Sept. 20, which is the deadline for franchise players to reach an extension in the new labor agreement. Otherwise, a franchise player must play the rest of the season on his one-year deal.
For now, the only talks between the sides have been football-related.
"Early [Tuesday] morning, Logan spoke with Bill [Belichick] and both are very happy, happy to get started," said Frank Bauer, Mankins' agent. "Logan is looking forward to being with his teammates and coaches, with a fresh start."
It's a different tack for Mankins, who last year publicly requested a trade and didn't sign his restricted free-agent tender until after the team's seventh game.
Where it leads remains to be seen, but at the least the possibility of a long-term extension doesn't seem as remote as it has over the past 12 months.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.