- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Without revealing details as to why he reported to the New England Patriots this week, two-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins simply said Wednesday "it was just time" to end his holdout and rejoin the team.
Mankins signed his reduced restricted free-agent tender of $1.54 million (which will be prorated) on Monday, which was earlier than most expected and about two weeks sooner than the Nov. 16 deadline he needed to meet in order to get credited with a year of service time.
"I'm not going to get into why I came back now," Mankins said before taking part in practice. "I'm not looking at it as if I'm early. I'm eight weeks late."
The Patriots received a two-week roster exemption for Mankins, which means the team does not need to make a move unless Mankins is on the active roster for either of the next two games. Mankins, who will return to practice Wednesday, acknowledged that he was "behind" and has "a long way to go to catch up."
"I've been training quite a bit," Mankins said. "We'll see today how it goes, how good of shape I'm in. ... I've played football a long time now. I've been through a lot of offseasons. I took this offseason like I take every other one and did all the things I've been taught through the years. I didn't hit anyone, or do anything like that, so that will all be new to me."
While he had "no expectations" for when he'd be able to play in his first game, Mankins said he was "happy to be back" with the team and around his teammates and friends.
"It was good to see everyone again," Mankins said. "When I let a bunch of guys know the day before, everyone was pretty happy I was coming back. I knew I had a lot of support."
While the perception was that Mankins had spent most of the spring and summer out west far away from the team, he said Wednesday that he has been in the area since April and has "seen the guys all the time." Still, Mankins admitted that being apart from the team setting has been hard.
"It's pretty special to play football, you become really good friends with all those guys and any time you line up with someone and you see all the work they've put in, and you put in together, and you go out and do it together it's pretty special," Mankins said. "I missed doing that with these guys. I'm close with all these guys. We're all friends. ... That was the hardest part -- being away from guys I truly like and like to be around."
Quarterback Tom Brady, who stands to benefit most from Mankins' return, said Wednesday the team welcomed him back with open arms.
"He's such a great guy. He's a great player," Brady said. "He's coming in with a great attitude. I've had a chance to talk to him over the last few months. He's been a great contributor to this team and to this organization. You can never have too many great football players or too many great teammates, so it's great to have him back."
Mankins praised how the Patriots' offensive line has played in his absence, particularly fill-in Dan Connolly.
"They played great. They had a lot of good games," Mankins said. "I know one thing -- I had a lot more faith in Dan Connolly than you guys did before the season started. Dan is a great friend of mine. He's done a great job. It was fun watching him play and get that opportunity to prove to everyone he could do it."
It's natural for Connolly to wonder what happens now, but he's not sweating the details.
"All I can do is prepare myself for every game, just like I have," he told reporters Wednesday before practice. "There is no telling what is going to happen once the game starts; I may be right back in there. I just have to prepare myself for all those positions [center and guard]."
Mankins had not reported to the Patriots before now in protest of his contract status. Entering his sixth season, he would have been an unrestricted free agent under the rules of the last collective bargaining agreement. However, when the owners opted out of the deal, triggering 2010's uncapped year, only players with six years in the NFL gained unrestricted status. As a result, Mankins was not free to hit the open market and the Patriots had offered him a $3.26 million tender offer to return to the team, which he refused to sign in protest.
"I want to be traded. I don't need to be here any more," Mankins told ESPNBoston.com in June. "This is about principle with me and keeping your word and how you treat people. This is what I thought the foundation of the Patriots was built on. Apparently, I was wrong. Growing up, I was taught a man's word is his bond. Obviously this isn't the case with the Patriots."
Before the season opener, it appeared the two sides were close to a long-term contract extension, but multiple sources close to the situation told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the deal collapsed over an apology for Mankins' remarks. Patriots owner Robert Kraft later denied the report, saying the Patriots never had a deal in place for Mankins, apology or no apology.
"I'm not commenting on the past, or the future," Mankins said Wednesday. "Right now, I'm here to help the team, help them get ready for Cleveland. That's what I'm looking at right now."
Despite the long standoff with the team, Mankins said he didn't think there would be any animosity going forward.
"I've talked to everyone here, we're all on the same page right now, so I don't see that there should be any problems," Mankins said.
Coach Bill Belichick struck a similar conciliatory tone the day before.
"Logan came in, I met with him this morning, and it's good to have him back on the team," Belichick said. "He's been a great player and person for our football team. He's tough. He's smart. You just can't have too many guys like that on your football team. We're glad he's back."
Mankins would not go into details about his contract situation, saying only he was "not too worried" about it at this point.
"After the season is when that will come up," Mankins said. "If you want to talk about money after the season, if you can find me, I'll talk to you."
Any regrets about the way he handled his holdout?
"Not right now, but maybe down the road I'll look back and wish I didn't, or maybe I'll look back and be happy I did," Mankins said.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
21hBy Ian O'Connor