Logan Mankins, the New England Patriots Pro Bowl guard, was reportedly on the verge of agreeing to contract terms before the start of the regular season.
But a disagreement over an apology may have ended Mankins' Patriot career.
Mankins became a restricted free agent after last season and was tendered an offer for $3.26 million. Mankins, who is regarded as one of the NFL's premier guards, rejected the offer and held out for a better deal, causing him to miss training camp and the preseason.
In June, Mankins lashed out at Patriots' owner Robert Kraft. He questioned Kraft's integrity and openly expressed his dismay with the progress of contract negotiations.
Finally, about two weeks ago, the two sides met to hammer out a deal. The Patriots asked Mankins to apologize to Kraft. Mankins did, privately calling Kraft and speaking at length.
The Patriots then asked Mankins to issue a public apology. Mankins walked away from the table.
An Apology Gone Too Far
The Patriots run a very tight ship and it's not unusual for management, typically Bill Belichick himself, to reprimand players for speaking out. It's become the Patriots' way and, thus far, has led to a tremendous amount of success.
It's understandable why Kraft would be offended by Mankins' remarks and would want an apology. Kraft prides himself on being a players' owner and enjoys healthy relationships with most of the Patriots' roster. A personal attack on his integrity, especially by one of New England's most respected players, must have been extremely insulting.
But why would Kraft want a public apology?
The obvious answer, it appears, is that Kraft simply wanted to save face and preserve his vaulted image around the league. In doing so, Kraft was putting his own oversized ego ahead of the welfare of the team, something a supposed players' owner should never do.
Mankins had already apologized to the Patriots owner, an apology which by all accounts was honest, heartfelt, and accepted. If Kraft's pride had been damaged, then that initial apology should have been enough to recoup it.
But it wasn't.
Even if Kraft were to apologize to Mankins, it's unlikely that the latter would agree to a contract.
Being offered a contract way below his market value was insulting enough. Being asked to publicly humiliate himself on behalf of a greedy owner is just about unforgivable.
Now the Patriots will have to contend without their best offensive lineman. They can try to trade Mankins, but it's unlikely any team would be willing to sacrifice both the players/draft picks and a new contract to obtain the guard.
It will be interesting to see how the Mankins affair impacts future Patriot negotiations, Randy Moss' in particular.
Will New England players be more cautious speaking out about ownership or the coaching staff? Or will they support their teammates (Mankins and Moss) in condemning the fabled Patriot way?
The Patriots have a strong team that has a shot at the Super Bowl, and any internal conflict will surely make winning more difficult. Some things, however, are more important than winning.
Like a man's pride, for one.
Mankins hurt Kraft's pride and then Kraft returned the favor by injuring Mankins' pride. Patriots fans can only hope that New England's ownership isn't so image-conscious next time.