Football Notes

Timing of Mankins deal was all part of the plan

By Greg A. Bedard
August 14, 2011

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That guard Logan Mankins is in the fold for at least the next six years is a very good thing, for him and the Patriots.

The team has the best guard in football locked up, and he will anchor a transition on the offensive line as left tackle Matt Light and center Dan Koppen wind down their careers.

Mankins was made wealthy and got the respect he deserved, even if it was a bit excessive at six years and $51 million ($30 million guaranteed), which shattered the records for interior linemen for both average per year and total guaranteed money.

Not bad for a position that used to be where teams stashed their poorest athletes and weakest links.

And Frank Bauer, Mankins’s agent, got exactly what he wanted in having his client be the top-paid guard. Actually, he demanded it of the Patriots - who were offering $35 million for five years - several times and with colorful language.

So in the end, everybody won and everybody’s happy.

The lingering question, however, is why couldn’t this deal have been done a year ago in the uncapped year at a cheaper price and more cap-friendly for the Patriots?

Patriots owner Robert Kraft shed some light on that Wednesday.

“That couldn’t have happened if we didn’t do our planning before we went into the lockout,’’ he said before the deal was announced. “So I just want you to know that that has been done with a lot of thought and a lot of planning.’’

First, about the price tag for Mankins. It’s excessive, to be sure, compared with the deals given to Saints guard Jahri Evans ($8.1 million average, $19 million guaranteed) and Jets center Nick Mangold ($7.73 million, $22 million).

But what the Patriots did for Mankins, in essence, was to make up for last season, when he was one of the players from the 2005 draft who were basically taken hostage when the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement.

In any other season, Mankins would have been an unrestricted free agent. Instead he was restricted, and after not signing his tender for the first eight weeks, Mankins made $815,964.

The Patriots could have stuck it to Mankins - as other teams did to their suddenly restricted players - but they did the right thing. They should be commended.

And the Patriots can also justify the big contract because the NFL television contracts will be renegotiated for 2013 and 2014, and with the subsequent increase in the cap, Mankins’s deal will look like a value by that time.

As for the Patriots and planning for this type of deal, all teams have a budget they set for each league year. They can differentiate on how closely they stick to those budgets. Some teams will spend cash over the salary cap.

The Patriots appear to be a team that aligns how much cash they spend each season with the salary cap. Several teams, usually those that are smartest with the cap, work that way.

“In my experience in Green Bay, the cash budget was the cap,’’ said founder Andrew Brandt, who constructed contracts for the Packers and Eagles. “So we would understand that we would spend to the cap as our budget.’’

In 2010, the Patriots spent around $50 million in bonuses for quarterback Tom Brady, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and the draft picks.

So far this year, the Patriots have spent about $40 million in cash bonuses for Mankins, the veterans they added in free agency and in trades, and the draft picks, who are less expensive in the new CBA.

When you combine the base salaries and bonuses paid out the past two years, the Patriots are nearly in line with the salary cap, making them a cash/cap team.

There is room for the Patriots to do new contracts for receiver Wes Welker, and perhaps linebacker Jerod Mayo, who will be a free agent after the 2012 season.

“It seems like they have tried to stagger their spending where they had the big Brady deal last year, and now the big Mankins deal this year, and maybe they already have a target for 2012 in terms of that level of spending,’’ Brandt said.

“You target guys that you hope are going to progress where you can come to them. I always tried to come at them at least a year before their leverage point of free agency.’’

The Patriots wait until the final year of a contract to start talking about a deal, which is their prerogative. Some teams lock up dependable players early to get them at a lower salary.

If the Patriots had reached an agreement with Mankins in the 2010 uncapped year, not only would the total price have been cheaper, but the future cap hits could have been lowered significantly.

As it stands, Mankins will count against the cap at least $5 million, $7 million, $10 million, $10.5 million, and $11 million the next five years.

“You could have done a deal last year where instead of a signing bonus, made it a roster bonus and the entire cap hit would have been contained in an uncapped year,’’ Brandt said. “And you wouldn’t be pushing $16 million of proration into future years.”

That would have required a $20 million commitment over the budget heading into a lockout that, for a while, appeared to have no end in sight.

In the end, the Patriots decided to stick to their well-laid plans and budget, and feel they are on course for the future.

“You can’t sign everyone you want, so you need to plan,’’ said Kraft, “and I think we did our planning knowing the kind of environment we were coming into and we tried to position ourselves so we had our core veterans and we could continue to sign the people we want to sign.’’

Front office plays defense for the Giants When you think about the New York Giants, two things come to mind: all the success they’ve had throughout the years thanks to some of the game’s top players; and the class that permeates the organization from the top down, thanks to the Mara family.

The Giants are still good, and dignified, but over the past week we’ve seen them sweat more than we’re used to. A lot more.

It started Wednesday night when team spokesman Pat Hanlon took to Twitter to take on some of the team’s critics. Hanlon has long been a breath of fresh air in his position, but he was at gale force that night.

His top quip came in response to a fan saying the team is rebuilding.

“Re-build my ass! I got your re-build,’’ Hanlon wrote.

Tell us how you really feel, Pat.

Then on Thursday, general manager Jerry Reese got emotional when defending the team’s perceived lack of activity in free agency, while losing players such as receiver Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss.

Reese actually came out and stated the Giants would be making the playoffs.

“We expect to build off that,’’ Reese said of his team’s 10-6 mark last season. “If we made a couple of plays here and there, we would have been in the playoffs and who knows what would have happened if that happened? It didn’t happen.

“So, we’ll make the plays this time and get in the playoffs and make a run.’’

The Giants are feeling the heat from their fan base as the Eagles make move after move.

“We are not looking to make every sexy splash that can be made,’’ said Reese, referencing the Eagles. “We are looking to make solid football decisions.’’

Asked if he felt he was under a microscope, Reese said, “Come up to my office and let me show you some of the mail I get. I’ll show you how under the microscope I get.

“From the very beginning, it’s pretty vicious, the mail I got. This is a big boy’s sport. If you are thin-skinned in this market or in the National Football League, period, you’re in the wrong job. I am tougher than I look.’’

Strange to hear that kind of talk coming from, of all teams, the Giants. But it has been a very stressful stretch for every front office since the lockout ended.

We’ll see at the end of the season who made the right moves.

Ravens are feathering their nest Oh how fast things can change in the post-lockout NFL.

A week into free agency, the Ravens looked like one of the looming losers in the feeding frenzy. Turns out, they were just lying in the weeds.

In the past 12 days, the Ravens have made some key additions to a team with a solid core.

Fullback Vonta Leach is the best in the game and will help running back Ray Rice continue to prosper. So will Ricky Williams, who sure seems like a perfect inside complement to the speedy Rice.

The Ravens were able to re-sign Chris Carr, which was a must considering the poor state of their cornerbacks. And signing safety Bernard Pollard wasn’t a huge move, but he has been one of the standouts since he arrived at training camp.

The real coup was acquiring receiver Lee Evans from the Bills for only a fourth-round pick.

“We’re excited about getting Lee Evans,’’ said coach John Harbaugh. “He’s a proven player in this league, and a quality person who will fit in well on our team.’’

While the Ravens still need a solid right tackle, the pieces are in place for quarterback Joe Flacco to back up his own assessment of his play.

“I’m pretty damn good,’’ he said in the offseason.

If second-round pick Torrey Smith pans out, the Ravens may finally have a potent passing offense to rival their defense.

Rice and Williams running the ball behind Leach. Smith and Evans burning on the outside, stretching defenses. And Anquan Boldin is one of the game’s best possession receivers underneath.

Evans, said general manager Ozzie Newsome, “is a quality veteran receiver who stretches the field and gives us significant downfield presence. He’s the type of person you want on your team. He brings leadership and maturity to the locker room.’’

That should be a lot to handle for opposing defenses.

“We signed Lee Evans?’’ linebacker Terrell Suggs posted on Twitter. “Championship!’’

Some are already dubbing the receiving corps “Flacco’s bomb squad.’’ We’re not ready to go there, or where Suggs wants them to go, but there is definitely a lot of potential.

And we’ll get to see if Flacco is as good as he thinks he is.

Hasselbeck learning lingo in Tennessee Matt Hasselbeck is off to a bit of a rough start with the Titans. Not with anything physical, though. His balky back is fine, and he’s throwing well. It’s getting the plays out of his mouth. That will happen when you change offenses overnight. For 12 years, Hasselbeck was immersed in the West Coast offense, first with the Packers and then the Seahawks. Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer uses a different system to describe plays. “It’s like you speak English all your life, and then they drop you off in Spain and say, ‘Now you’ve got to speak Spanish,’ ’’ Palmer said. “It’s tough. You’ll pick it up, but you won’t pick it up as quickly as you would like. That’s normal, and he’s doing a good job. Don’t think I’m disappointed with him. You called it pepper and now you’re calling it salt, and it just doesn’t register that fast.’’ Hasselbeck and Palmer have a long history together, just not on the field. Palmer lived in Norfolk - where the Hasselbecks are from - when he was an assistant coach with the Patriots from 1993-97. Palmer, a Danbury, Conn., native, has longstanding ties to New England. He was head coach at New Haven and Boston University and has a home on Cape Cod.

Nickel package Five takes on the league:

1. With the sudden retirement of linebacker Channing Crowder, all 13 of the draft selections Alabama coach Nick Saban made when he was coach of the Dolphins from 2005-06 are no longer members of the organization. Since he was coming from LSU, many thought Saban would have a leg up on drafting players since he recruited many of them. Guess not.

2. Some players, mostly kick returners, are whining about the kickoffs being moved up to the 35-yard line. Please. On Thursday night, 68.6 percent of kickoffs were returned around the league. Allowing only a 5-yard run-up for the kickoff team will give returners plenty of chances.

3. The other major rule change (reviewing every play ruled a touchdown) got off to a rough start when the Patriots’ first two scores needed to be checked by referee Ed Hochuli. No, the delays aren’t great. But do you want the calls right or not? Do you have some better place to be on a Sunday afternoon? If you actually paid to attend the game, you’re getting more bang for your buck.

4. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler just keeps taking shots. At the White House Friday, the Packers presented President Obama with a stock certificate, making him a shareholder in the team. “If I’m a part-owner,’’ the famous Bears fan said, “I think we should initiate a trade to send [Aaron] Rodgers down to the Bears.’’ Ouch.

5. The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, UFOs, Jets receiver Plaxico Burress: Things that are rumored to exist, though I have yet to actually see them.

Short yardage The NFL is experimenting with using another official on the field for the second straight exhibition season. Last year, the league used a deep judge, who stays behind the deepest receiver, in eight preseason games. The reviews were mostly positive from coaches, who didn’t feel any additional intrusion. The league is typically slow-moving when it comes to these types of changes, so another year or two of data will likely be needed. The NFL last added a seventh official in 1978 . . . Things might not have gone according to plan when former UConn running back Jordan Todman left school a season early and wasn’t drafted until the sixth round, by the Chargers. But the former Dartmouth High School standout and two-time Globe All-Scholastic has stood out in camp. Todman carried six times for 30 yards Thursday night, and had another 21 yards on four receptions in the loss to the Seahawks. Todman, who has lined up as a Wildcat quarterback, is a shoo-in to make the team as the fastest back, but he won’t play much behind Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews, barring an injury . . . Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews revealed that he played the second half of last season with a stress fracture in his left leg. “It hurt,’’ said Matthews, who had 17 sacks, including the playoffs. “I don’t know what you’d relate it to, but it hurt pretty good.’’ The Packers listed Matthews’s injury as “shin’’ on the injury reports, which is entirely legal under league rules . . . With the addition (again) of Bill Parcells to its stable of talking heads, ESPN now employs four former Jets coaches: Parcells, Herman Edwards, Eric Mangini, and Lou Holtz. Somewhere, Rich Kotite feels spurned . . . Here’s one for the All-Name Team: Rams second-year tight end Mike Hoomanawanui. It’s pronounced “Oh-oh-mah-NAH-wah-NEW-ee.’’ Patriots fans might remember the name. He scored a touchdown at Gillette Stadium last year in an exhibition game . . . 710 ESPN Radio in Los Angeles has reached an agreement to broadcast all of the Jets’ regular-season games, to capitalize on the popularity of quarterback Mark Sanchez, who started at Southern Cal for all of one season. Somebody get that city an NFL team fast.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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