The storied stand-off between the New England Patriots organization and their Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins was one of the major headlines of the 2010 offseason. When the team slapped Mankins with the franchise tag before the NFL lockout began, many expected similar circumstances to plague the headlines of Boston newspapers and websites once again.
The long-term future of Mankins remains uncertain, but this situation is multi-layered, and as such bears a 3D analysis.
It's not just about whether the Patriots want him back. It's about whether he wants to be back. Not only that, it's also about whether his contributions to the team are worth the investment to lock him up long-term.
With that, let's take a look at the factors that could contribute most directly to his future with the team.
The Patriots and Logan Mankins weren't on the same page this time last year.
Having played out the course of his six-year rookie deal, Mankins wanted to test the free agent waters, and when he was hit with a restricted free agent tender, he began demanding a trade, and held out in distaste with what he felt was a lack of respect in the form of the RFA tender.
After stating that he was told he would be taken care of in the 2010 offseason, Mankins felt lied to by the organization.
Ultimately, as we all know, his holdout ended midway through the 2010 season. Nothing had been resolved, however, as Mankins still wanted to test free agency and still wanted a long-term deal. It looked like things might only get worse when the team hit him with the franchise tag, but...
It was surprising to many that Mankins offered to sign his franchise tender without a hitch. Many expected him to take part in another nasty holdout, as Mankins has been less than pleased with not being allowed to explore the free agent waters.
He even resigned himself to the possibility of never experiencing free agency, and sounded optimistic that a long-term deal could get done in talking to Boston Herald writer Ian Rapoport.
”There’s always a chance [of a long-term deal],” Mankins said. ”I’ve talked to the coaches, ownership, everyone. We’re all on the same page. We’ll see happens.”
Kerry Byrne of Cold, Hard Football Facts engineered an indicator for offensive and defensive line play that he calls the "Hog Index". This stat takes into account a unit's success on third down, the negative pass plays they generate on defense or allow on offense, and yards per rush attempt (YPA).
Without peeking, one might assume a dramatic increase in these indicators with Mankins as opposed to without. Let's take a look at the numbers last year, from when Mankins was holding out and when he returned to the line:
|Rank on OHI||YPA (rank)||NPP% (rank)||3down (rank)||Avg. rank|
|Before Mankins||1st||4.20 (12th)||6.75% (8th)||46.43% (2nd)||7.3|
|End of Year||1st||4.35 (10th)||5.64% (3rd)||48.22% (2nd)||5.0|
While there were some notable improvements (1.11 percent decrease in negative pass plays, 1.89 percent increase in third down conversions), it's not the astronomical improvement many might suspect would take place with the addition of a Pro Bowl guard.
Overall, the Patriots were first in the league in the Offensive Hog Index both before and after Mankins' seven-week holdout.
Byrne points out that while Mankins may have helped the unit, some of those numbers should be attributed at least in part to "the otherworldly play of Tom Brady".
"[T]he big improvement after the Mankins return came in Negative Pass Play percentage. But was that because of Mankins, or because of the other-worldly play of Tom Brady? The QB had thrown all four of his regular-season INTs by the time of the Baltimore game in Week 6, with Mankins still out.
Was the great guard responsible for the fact that Brady did not throw another pick the rest of the year? We don't know. But it'd be a stretch to say it was."
It may seem like sacrilege to suggest that the Pro Bowl guard is an unneccesary component to the success of the Patriots offense. It bears mentioning, though, that the Patriots offense did just fine without him.
The picture says it all about Mankins' contributions to the offense. It's hard for a guard to have a big statistical impact on an offense, especially one that's not as run-centric as, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What Mankins adds isn't found in a stat sheet. It's found in his temperament and attitude about the game. Just watching him play is enough to see what he adds. It's the attitude, the temperament, the extra shot of piss and vinegar that he adds to the offensive line.
This isn't a guy whose bad side you want to be on, as we saw in the Patriots Sunday night game against the Steelers. Troy Polamalu was giving Tom Brady a little extra sugar at the bottom of the pile after he dove forward for a five-yard touchdown "run". As Polamalu began twisting the helmet of the Patriots quarterback, Mankins took objection and got in on the business.
I don't see any other Patriots rushing to the aid of their quarterback in that situation. Mankins truly is the enforcer of the Patriots offensive line.
In the end, it all looks like a wash. The problems in the past are just that: in the past. The stats may indicate they're fine without him, but the tape doesn't lie: he's the attitude of the offensive line.
It remains to be seen whether the Patriots bring Mankins back for the long-term after his one-year franchise tag is up. The Patriots are about as predictable as the weather when it comes to these things. The forecast may call for one thing, and past trends may indicate a likely outcome, but in the end, you'll just have to look out your window in the morning and see for yourself.
Everyone's finally on the same page, though, and that's a great place to start.