Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 14: Patriots trade Logan Mankins to Buccaneers. To read other stories in this series, click here.
Logan Mankins was a stalwart for nine seasons in New England before being shipped to the Buccaneers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Before the 2014 season began, it appeared that other than training camp roster cuts, the Patriots had their team set. By end of the preseason, however, the trade of a veteran player shook up the foundation of the team.
New England dealt six-time Pro Bowl selection Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick on Aug. 26. Wright, a second-year player, caught 54 passes and three touchdowns in his rookie season with the Buccaneers. The move gave the Patriots more depth in the passing game, but it came as a surprise to many that it was Mankins who was traded.
Mankins said he was disappointed about leaving the Patriots and people with whom he developed close relationships.
“I’ve talked to Tom [Brady]. I’ve talked to probably 99 percent of the team,” Mankins said after being dealt. “I’m not going to get into what we said. … I’ll miss Tom for sure, and I’ll miss a lot of those guys. I had a lot of good friends, a lot of coaches I was good friends with.”
“Once you’ve been around this business long enough, you know anything’s possible. If you don’t understand that it’s a business, you’re lying to yourself.”
Brady had Mankins as a force on the offensive line for nine years in New England. The quarterback was mostly reserved about the situation and his feelings on it, but Brady said he hoped Mankins continued his successful career in Tampa Bay.
“I haven’t really spoken to anybody about it,” Brady said during an appearance on Dennis & Callahan. “I have my own personal feelings that obviously are very personal to me. Whatever those are, I just want our team to be the best it can be for this year. I love Logan, Logan was a great friend of mine. Nobody stood for Patriot football more than him. But he’s moved on. I hope he’s happy. We’ll keep in touch.”
Coach Bill Belichick had watched and coached the reliable lineman his entire career. The coach gave nothing but praises to Mankins following the trade. The decision, although tough, came down to what would help the Patriots the most going forward.
“Logan Mankins is everything we would ever want in a football player,” Belichick said. “It is hard to imagine a better player at his position, a tougher competitor or a person to represent our program. He is one of the all-time great Patriots and the best guard I ever coached. Logan brought a quiet but unmistakable presence and leadership that will be impossible to duplicate.
“Unfortunately, this is the time of year when difficult decisions have to be made and this is one of the most difficult we will ever make, but like every other decision it was made for what we feel is in the best interests of the team.”
Many pointed to the money as the key reason for the trade. Mankins became the highest-paid guard in the NFL after he signed a six-year, $51 million deal in 2010. Wright was set to make less than $500,000 for the 2014 season.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter, on the other hand, said there were plenty of other reasons for the deal.
“They saved, what, 6 1/2, 7 million dollars in cash? And I don’t believe it was a financially driven decision. But do I believe that was a part of it? Yes,” Schefter said during an appearance on Middays with MFB. “Do I believe part of it was trading and adding a tight end who they believe in? Yes. Getting a fourth-round pick? Yes. Giving some of these either young guys, the Josh Klines of the world, an opportunity? Yes. All of these things together, and when you factor them all in, it just made sense for them to do that.”
Without Mankins on the line of scrimmage to protect Brady, questions loomed about how the Patriots could replace his presence. And without longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia to help out some of the inexperienced linemen like Jordan Devey and Josh Kline, some felt the line would take a hit. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer said New England had enough experience to fill the void and keep Brady on is feet.
“We have a lot of guys with a lot of good experience, like Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer and there’s a whole list of guys who know what they’re doing. We can definitely get by,” Solder said at the end of the preseason.
But in New England’s first game of the season, the offensive line couldn’t handle the pressure from the Dolphins. Brady was sacked four times and lost two fumbles during a loss in which the Patriots were shut out in the second half.
Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said after that game that the trade was the wrong move for short-term success.
“I think there were two mistakes made regarding this team right now for this year,” Bruschi said. “The two mistakes were [trading Logan Mankins] and [drafting Jimmy Garoppolo]. Were those the right decisions for down the road? Sure. But for right now, those were mistakes for this team. Mankins would be there to solidify some of the problems they have at that offensive line.”
After a difficult 2-2 start to the year for New England, a stretch of seven consecutive wins shifted much of the talk away from the trade and the play of the offensive line. Brady got more time in the pocket, and he excelled as he had in previous years.
“We all work together,” Nate Solder said. “We have a captain with Dan [Connolly] and we have several guys that have played a lot of ball, so we’re moving forward.”
As for Wright, he became an effective weapon in the red zone, grabbing six touchdowns heading into Sunday’s season finale, including two scores in one game against the Lions.
“Every time we throw to him it’s a touchdown — we’ll try to find him more down there,” Brady said after the game against Detroit. “He does a great job in the coverage and finds the open spots.”