Mankins negotiates first steps back
FOXBOROUGH - Given that Patriots owner Robert Kraft has said he wants Logan Mankins to be a member of the team long term, hearing Mankins say yesterday that he believes the sides can come to an agreement on a contract gives hope that it may actually happen - perhaps sooner rather than later.
That seemed like no sure thing a few months ago, when Mankins said he’d heard there was something called free agency in the NFL and he’d like to experience it someday. And it certainly didn’t seem possible nearly 14 months ago when Mankins demanded to be traded and said the team went back on a promise to get his contract done before the 2010 season.
Many interpreted Mankins’s comments as him saying Kraft went back on his word. Yesterday, Mankins finally addressed what he said.
“Let’s get things straight: Me and Mr. Kraft never had a problem. I never said he lied,’’ Mankins said, his voice rising. “When I said the organization, I never said he did it. Let’s get that straight right now.
“Me and Mr. Kraft never had a problem. We talked last offseason, we talked last season, we talked this offseason, we talked in training camp. Everything’s good between me and him.’’
Kraft and Mankins were spotted talking on the field as recently as Tuesday.
When asked if he believes it is possible for a deal to be struck, Mankins replied, “There’s always a chance. I talked to the coaches, ownership, everyone, and we’re all on the same page and we’ll see what happens.’’
Mankins, 29, went on to say he has great memories of his time with the Patriots, has had a lot of fun with the team, and enjoys his teammates and coaches. But he realizes “more now than ever’’ that the NFL is a business.
Mankins signed his franchise tender last week and took part in his first practice yesterday along with several other familiar faces, including Sammy Morris, Kyle Arrington, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
(By league rules, any veteran free agent who signed, whether it was with the team he played for last season or a new one, was not able to practice until the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified by the players, which happened yesterday at around 4:30 p.m.)
That meant Mankins, a left guard, had his first battles with new teammate Albert Haynesworth. Mankins got the better of Haynesworth the first time the two lined up opposite one another, but Haynesworth pushed Mankins back on the second snap.
“He’s a big, strong guy. The first one I was glad I got him, but the second one he got me. It’s going to go back and forth like that,’’ Mankins said. “I remember my first few years here I got to practice against Richard Seymour all the time and it only made me better. So, with Albert, if practice is harder that will make me better.’’
Bringing back Matt Light was “a big signing’’ in Mankins’s eyes, and it meant that for the seventh straight season, he will have Light to his left at tackle and Dan Koppen to his right at center.
Unlike last season, when he waited until early November to sign his restricted free agent tender, Mankins arrived on time this year.
“Well, I figured I’m getting paid a lot of money this year, I should put in a full year,’’ he said with a smile. “I don’t know [when he decided to report at the start of camp], but I took this offseason like any other - I worked out, played some golf, hung out with the family, and when it was time to go I said, ‘Let’s go.’ ’’
The franchise tag for offensive linemen this year is $10.1 million, which is fully guaranteed. It would be wise for the Patriots to come to a long-term deal with Mankins now so they could lessen Mankins’s salary-cap hit.
New England has until Sept. 20 to negotiate with Mankins’s agent, Frank Bauer. If a new deal is not signed by that date, the sides cannot resume talks until after the season.
An All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection last year despite playing just nine games, Mankins is looking forward to another strong season.
“This year, I’m putting everything behind me, trying to have a good year and help the team,’’ he said. “And if I play good, things will take care of themselves.’’