For a team coming off a 14-2 regular season, the New England Patriots have a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the prospects of the 2011 season.
The contractual status of Logan Mankins is one specific area of concern because the All Pro guard held out in protest of his salary in 2010 after he and the team failed to agree upon an extension.
He skipped out on mini-camp, training camp, the preseason and the first eight weeks of the regular season before finally making his season debut in Week 9 against the Cleveland Browns.
Mankins didn't miss a beat following his return and his nine-game season was enough to earn him a second straight Pro-Bowl selection.
His importance to the Patriots cannot be understated; New England is undoubtedly a better team with him on the field.
Head coach Bill Belichick recently presented Mankins on the NFL Network's countdown of the top 100 players. The lineman was voted 39th best in the league by his peers and Belichick offered a first hand account on what makes him special.
"With a quarterback like Tom Brady, who needs to step up into the pocket, who likes to step up into the pocket, there has to be somewhere to step up into," said Belichick. "Logan does a great job of that, of staying firm on the line of scrimmage and not getting driven back, so that Tom can step up and avoid the rush and make the throw."
Belichick expounded on Mankins' important role in the running game as well.
"A lot of times Logan is at the point of attack in the running game regardless of where the play is called."
Hopefully, the team can come to an agreement with their former first-round pick because this is one player definitely worth keeping.
But Mankins is only one of the X-Factors for the 2011 New England Patriots.