The New England Patriots locker room was filled with sadness in the wake of the trade that sent guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As it turns out, the locker room is also full of at least a few players who stand to benefit from his departure.
The trade, first reported by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, opened up plenty of cap space for future years that they can spend to keep some of their most important players in-house for years to come. Mankins was set to account for $10.5 million against the salary cap in 2014, according to OverTheCap.com, and $11 million in 2015. In total, the Patriots will save $6.25 million this season and $7 million in 2015 and 2016.
That might help explain a major reason for his departure; Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported that the Patriots asked Mankins to take a pay cut and the six-time Pro Bowler refused.
To anyone who follows the Patriots, this refusal should come as no surprise. This is the same Mankins who held out for seven games in 2010 in a contract dispute. He fought hard for that money, and he wasn't going to part ways with it easily. So, the Patriots parted ways with him instead.
Make no mistake; in the short term, the Patriots could feel the squeeze on the interior of the offensive line. They have some depth in the middle, with young linemen like Josh Kline, Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey seen as potential fill-ins. In the long term, however, the Patriots have an opportunity to re-sign veteran players at more important positions.
Cole also says the move did not have anything to do with long-term plans for any other player, but it could help in the process of getting the ink on the paper for a few other upcoming free agents on the roster. That is especially true since the Patriots can roll over their unused cap space for next year—for example, if they have $5 million in cap space at the end of this year, they are eligible to roll that over into next year for an increase of $5 million on whatever is next year's cap.
Aside from the contractual aspects, there are other players who stand to benefit from the departure of Mankins, so here's a full look.
The Patriots will be faced with a big decision on Darrelle Revis: either exercise the $12 million option for the second year of his two-year, $32 million contract, or allow him to hit free agency after just one year of service in New England. If the Patriots were to exercise that option, Revis would count for a whopping $25 million against the cap this year.
That is, unless the Patriots are willing to rework his deal. In fact, Jason Cole reported at the beginning of August that the Patriots were already talking to Revis to try and find a way to get his contract restructured. The Patriots may find that task easier now, with the extra money freed up by shipping Mankins to Tampa Bay.
Revis is one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and there is no guarantee that he'll be willing to take a discount to stay with the Patriots. He is averaging $16 million over the life of his two-year deal, which is the same amount for which he signed a yearly non-guaranteed contract with the Buccaneers last offseason.
It will probably take a deal worth around that much to keep Revis in the fold—and that number could go up if Revis has the kind of season the Patriots are hoping he will have.
The Patriots have been searching for a shutdown cornerback non-stop since they lost Asante Samuel as a free agent in 2008. Aqib Talib proved to be a solid stopgap, tiding the Patriots over for a season-and-a-half. Unless the Patriots want to continue going the stopgap route, Revis should be their top free-agent priority in 2015.
What a long, strange trip it's been for former cornerback-turned-safety Devin McCourty. The 2010 first-round pick set the world on fire as a rookie and tied for second in the league with seven interceptions. He was voted a second-team All-Pro as a rookie but flamed out in 2011 and struggled to a finish that saw him allow 1,004 receiving yards through the air into his coverage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He appeared to be on the right track at cornerback, but injuries and ineffective play forced head coach Bill Belichick to move McCourty back to safety midway through the 2012 season. The decision proved to be the right one, as McCourty is developing into a premier NFL safety and earned a spot as a second-team All-Pro at his new position.
This situation has been looming for a while, but in McCourty's defense, he has ignored the noise with Belichickian perfection.
"A contract year isn't what everyone else talks about," McCourty said before training camp. "For a player, it's just another year in the league. For me, it's my fifth year in the league. I still want to get better. I think like Ninko (Rob Ninkovich) was saying, as you get older and year-by-year, you just want to continue to get better using what you've learned mentally and get better physically. Luckily for me, I'm not as old as Ninko. He's 30, so I still have time to improve physically and get bigger, faster and stronger."
|NFL's highest-paid safeties|
|Earl Thomas (SEA)||$40,000,000.00||$10,000,000.00||$19,725,000.00||$4,931,250.00|
|Jairus Byrd (NO)||$54,000,000.00||$9,000,000.00||$18,300,000.00||$3,050,000.00|
|Eric Berry (KC)||$50,045,000.00||$8,340,833.00||$25,696,200.00||$4,282,700.00|
|Dashon Goldson (TB)||$41,250,000.00||$8,250,000.00||$18,000,000.00||$3,600,000.00|
|Eric Weddle (SD)||$40,000,000.00||$8,000,000.00||$19,000,000.00||$3,800,000.00|
|Antrel Rolle (NYG)||$37,100,000.00||$7,420,000.00||$15,000,000.00||$3,000,000.00|
|Reshad Jones (MIA)||$28,012,000.00||$7,003,000.00||$15,000,000.00||$3,750,000.00|
|Kam Chancellor (SEA)||$28,002,008.00||$7,000,502.00||$7,825,000.00||$1,956,250.00|
|Donte Whitner (CLE)||$28,000,000.00||$7,000,000.00||$11,000,000.00||$2,750,000.00|
|Michael Griffin (TEN)||$35,000,000.00||$7,000,000.00||$11,500,000.00||$2,300,000.00|
The Patriots signed McCourty to a five-year rookie contract that accounts for $5.115 million against the salary cap this year, and with his deal expiring after this season, the time has come to pay McCourty what he is worth: a lot. He has done everything the Patriots have asked him to do, and has done most all of it at an extremely high level (minus kickoff returns).
Based on what the rest of the league's top-paid safeties are making, the Patriots can expect to pay about $7 or $8 million per year and roughly $3.5 million guaranteed per year to keep McCourty in the fold.
Now that the Patriots have lost Mankins' leadership, keeping around a known veteran leader and captain like McCourty should be in the front (not the back) of their mind.
The Patriots wisely picked up the fifth-year option to keep left tackle Nate Solder around through the 2015 season. The 2011 first-round pick has played well his first three years in the league and is now the unquestioned anchor of the offensive line with Mankins out of the picture.
Solder will count just $2,717,429 against the cap in 2014 and $7.438 million in 2015, making him the 23rd- and 13th-highest paid left tackle in the league those respective years. Even after his contract expires, the Patriots will have the option to use the franchise tag on him in each of the two years following 2015 (if they use it on him for a second straight year, the value of the tag is 10 percent higher than that year's actual franchise tag value).
In 2014, the tag is $11.654 million for an offensive tackle, but that number will probably change in the coming years. Solder graded out as the ninth-best tackle in the league, according to PFF, so what would it look like if he were to be paid in that range?
|NFL's highest-paid left tackles|
|Tyron Smith (DAL)||$97,600,000.00||$12,200,000.00||$22,118,013.00||$2,764,752.00|
|Joe Thomas (CLE)||$80,500,000.00||$11,500,000.00||$28,500,000.00||$4,071,429.00|
|Ryan Clady (DEN)||$52,500,000.00||$10,500,000.00||$15,000,000.00||$3,000,000.00|
|D’Brickashaw Ferguson (NYJ)||$60,000,000.00||$10,000,000.00||$9,222,500.00||$1,537,083.00|
|Trent Williams (WAS)||$60,000,000.00||$10,000,000.00||$18,879,000.00||$3,146,500.00|
|Andrew Whitworth (CIN)||$19,525,000.00||$9,762,500.00||$10,300,000.00||$5,150,000.00|
|Jason Peters (PHI)||$38,300,000.00||$9,575,000.00||$15,750,000.00||$3,937,500.00|
|Branden Albert (MIA)||$47,000,000.00||$9,400,000.00||$20,000,000.00||$4,000,000.00|
|Duane Brown (HOU)||$53,400,000.00||$8,900,000.00||$22,081,500.00||$3,680,250.00|
|Jake Long (STL)||$34,000,000.00||$8,500,000.00||$12,000,000.00||$3,000,000.00|
Solder could expect somewhere in the neighborhood of $9 to $10 million a year for his services and $4 to $5 million a year guaranteed. That being said, he could also be hoping for a deal similar to the 10-year, $97.6 million deal signed by Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith (drafted in the first round the same year as Solder, eight spots before Solder).
Smith gave up some freedoms to sign that deal: He cannot renegotiate his deal if he outperforms his contract, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. Solder may have to give up some freedoms, as well, if he wants a contract that comes close to those figures.
The Patriots have classically valued consistency on the offensive line, so it is hard to imagine them allowing both their starting linemen on the left side to leave the fold in a span of 18 months, but it was hard to imagine them trading Mankins. Just like it was hard to imagine them cutting Lawyer Milloy before the 2003 season. Just like it was hard to imagine them trading Richard Seymour eight days before the 2009 season.
Young Offensive Linemen
The departure of Mankins means there's an opening at left guard. While that may create some uncertainty for the Patriots offensive line as a whole, where they now have two undeclared starting spots on the five-man front, it creates an opportunity for younger offensive linemen to show what they can do.
There are two linemen who could rise to the occasion: Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline.
Cannon is a fourth-year pro who has played at nearly every spot on the offensive line, except for left guard and center. Most of his experience has come at right tackle, where he filled in for Sebastian Vollmer after the latter suffered a season-ending leg injury. Cannon is a behemoth at 6'6" and 335 pounds, and while he may not be the most athletic lineman on the roster, his ability to drive block would be a huge help on the inside.
Kline has earned high praise from Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio for his work ethic and for taking advantage of his opportunities to make an impression. Kline played left guard in two games, filling in when Mankins shifted to left tackle to fill in for Solder, who suffered a concussion. The Patriots had some nice rushing plays behind him, and he earned an opportunity to start in preseason games this year as well.
There are some dark-horse candidates for the role, including Jordan Devey and Jon Halapio. Devey has earned some starting opportunities this preseason as well but was a little underwhelming in those opportunities. Halapio has not played with the top unit but could find himself as an important backup this season.
There are still a lot of moving parts on the offensive line, beginning with the battle at center, where Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell continue to duke it out for the starting spot. The Patriots have plenty of options to fill the void left by Mankins, but make no mistake—that is one big void.
Unless otherwise noted, all contract and salary information provided by OverTheCap.com; Quotes obtained firsthand.