New England Patriots Exploring Franchise Tag Options With Logan Mankins

Sean Keane@@keanedawg86Correspondent IFebruary 10, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 20:  Logan Mankins #70 of the New England Patriots against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium on September 20, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

New England Patriots Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins sat out seven games during the 2010 season thanks to a contract dispute and popular opinion in New England is that the team will use its Franchise Tag to retain his services, at least for the 2011 season.  That is, of course, assuming there is a 2011 season.

Staying with Mankins and the Patriots, the biggest obstacle to overcome in negotiations, aside from the usual financial posturing between the two sides, appears to be the acrimonious relationship between Mankins and the team.

The three-time Pro Bowler reportedly turned down an offer last offseason that would have paid roughly seven million per season, making him one of the five highest-paid guards in the NFL at the time.  He went on record expressing his desire to be traded, not because the Patriots wouldn't pay him, but because he didn't appreciate the way they handled his situation.

When the team failed to meet his demands, he sat out the first seven games, leaving nearly two million dollars on the table in the process.

Now an unrestricted free agent, Mankins stands to make in the neighborhood of ten million dollars in 2011 by signing a franchise tag.  As of this writing, however, the Patriots have not used the tag and have had no discussions of any kind with Mankins.

With the looming possibility of a lockout and the franchise tag at their disposal, it seems the Patriots have all the leverage here, but that's not necessarily the case.  Coming off a 14-2 season in which they suffered a stunning defeat in Gillette Stadium in the AFC Divisional round, New England has the pieces to make another run at the title, but they need to protect 2010 NFL MVP Tom Brady.

With both Mankins and left tackle Matt Light entering free agency, it behooves the team to address the offensive line as soon as possible.  While attending the Pro Bowl, Mankins wouldn't rule out returning to New England but also pointed out he doesn't think a return is likely.

He intends to test the free agent market and offer his services to the highest bidder.  The only way Mankins himself foresees playing for the Patriots again is as the team's franchise player, in which case he's already made his aversion to the franchise tag known.

For whatever reason, Mankins doesn't feel appreciated by ownership and clearly doesn't expect the team to step up their offer enough to retain him without the franchise tag.  If they do use it, his options are simple. Either he will sign and play out the season or he will cost himself 10 million dollars.  My guess is he signs.

The Patriots' options, however, are not so cut and dry.

Team owner Robert Kraft has publicly expressed his desire to re-sign Mankins long term, even if it seems unlikely.  The Patriots will probably sit down with Mankins to at least gauge his interest in a new contract in hopes of keeping him in New England.

If they come to an agreement all this speculation becomes moot, but given his comments last offseason as well as during the Pro Bowl that seems nearly impossible, which will inevitably lead the Patriots to use their franchise tag.

That would keep Mankins in red, white and navy for 2011, but it's a band-aid approach and leaves both sides in the exact same position this time next year.  I doubt the team will use the tag unless negotiations fail, so the odds of working out a new deal while Mankins plays out the franchise tender are slim.

Sure, the Patriots could let him play it out and make a title run in 2011, but given Bill Belichick's insistence on getting value for his assets, it wouldn't make sense to just let Mankins walk next year.

I smell a trade.

Then again, the two sides could kiss and make up and New England could enjoy having one of the NFL's best offensive lineman for the remainder of Brady's tenure. 

The situation bears close monitoring over the next several weeks.