There’s a scene early in the movie Fight Club where the narrator (Edward Norton’s character) explains his day job to a stranger. He’s describing how an auto manufacturer decides whether to do a recall on a faulty car or not, and concludes that “If the cost of a settlement is less than the cost of doing a recall, we don’t do one.” Needless to say, his conversation partner is not impressed.
The Logan Mankins trade caught just about everyone by surprise; when my phone buzzed and the little Patriots app icon popped up, I just about spit my entire mug of coffee on my desk because I thought it was a misprint. (Side note: if anyone has good tips for getting coffee out of wood, hook a brother up). But after a few minutes to let the news marinate, it clicked; this is 101-level Kraft and Belichick, and it’s a big part of the reason why Patriots fans have probably forgotten what it’s like to not be in the mix for the Super Bowl every year.
The easiest parallel for today is just a few years ago, on the opposite side of the offensive line – Pro Bowl D-line stalwart Richard Seymour. After a holdout over a new contract in 2005, Seymour played 3 more seasons in New England before getting shipped out to Oakland in 2009 for a first-round draft pick. Richard Seymour wasn’t happy, and neither was most of New England. He missed the Pro Bowl in 2008, but was still clearly playing at a level that, in the minds of fans, any coach should have been thrilled about. You probably also remember Richard Seymour being livid about the trade and not reporting to the Raiders for days, which should point out the following: if you’re willing to risk getting fined or put on reserve because you’re that ticked off, you’re pretty upset.
But the kicker with Seymour that should be ringing bells with Patriots fans now is this:
1) Seymour and Mankins were both playing at a high level at the time they were traded. This is not debatable.
2) Seymour and Mankins were both playing at said high level despite dealing with various injuries the seasons before they were traded, but not quite at the level they were pre-injury.
3) Seymour and Mankins both were making a metric ton of money in New England.
Bill Belichick hates a lot of things, and paying top dollar for a player that’s a risk to either get injured, not play up to the money they’re making, or both, is one of them. Looking at you, Albert Haynesworth.
Think about it this way: Logan Mankins is a great player, leader, captain, and good with the press. He also has made it pretty clear over the years that there’s a better chance of getting PETA to come to your 4th of July barbecue than there is of him taking a pay cut. Does it seem cold to trade him? Sure. But look at Vince Wilfork’s offseason; the fan favorite defensive tackle had to almost completely restructure his contract in a way that guys like Albert Breer described on Twitter as “one of the most complicated (contracts) I’ve ever seen”, so that if, God forbid, Wilfork went down again, the Patriots could save some cash. Wilfork is 32 years old. So is Mankins. Unless you’re Tony Gonzalez, it’s understandable that the team was a bit squeamish about paying a guy on the wrong side of 30 who, even though he was still playing very well, was already starting to see a decline in his body.
Finally, here’s the last bit that probably pushed Kraft over the edge – it doesn’t look like a great deal on paper, mostly because 95% of NFL fans probably have no clue who Tim Wright is. Calling the Buccaneer’s offense last year “bottom of the barrel” would be insulting to barrels, but the Patriots have an obvious need at tight end, and apparently weren’t impressed by any of the higher-profile free agents like Jermichael Finley or Dustin Keller to sign them. The fourth-round pick probably doesn’t get anyone jumping on their couch either (not in a happy way, anyway), but given how much the Patriots like to wheel and deal on draft day, there’s no telling how useful that might or might not be. But even with the dead money from Mankins’ contract on their cap, the Patriots are still saving a bundle ($6.25 million this year, $7 million next year), getting some depth at arguably their most volatile position, and avoiding another potentially ugly situation if Mankins suffered another injury or decline in play. As much of a bummer as it is to see Logan Mankins leave town, imagine how ugly of a breakup it would be if he were to get injured next year, and then get cut after the season. That’s a world I don’t want to live in.
That cap flexibility bit also might not seem like that big of a deal, until you consider the new contracts that are probably around the corner for the Patriots. Devin McCourty. Nate Solder. Shane Vereen and/or Stevan Ridley. Oh, and maybe that Darrelle Revis guy.
So, bringing things back to the Fight Club quote: today was ripping the Band-Aid off instead of the alternative. Was Logan Mankins a great Patriot? Abso-freaking-lutely. Just watch how Bill Belichick gushed about him to the press today after the trade. Will he make Tampa Bay immediately better? Yes. It’d be impossible for him not to. Will the trade make New England immediately better? Not really, unless Tim Wright turns out to be an animal on the field that nobody saw coming. But are Kraft and Belichick out of their minds for pulling the trigger? Abso-freaking-lutely not.
Bottom line: Logan Mankins deserves the best introduction Gillette Stadium can put together the next time the Bucs come to town.