After spending some time vetting controversial and recently NFL-reinstated guard Richie Incognito, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked the NFL by rolling the dice on a different guard who played in the AFC East last season. As first reported by FOX Sports' Jay Glazer, the Bucs have agreed in principle with the New England Patriots on a deal that will send Logan Mankins to Tampa in exchange for tight end Tim Wright and a reported fourth-round draft pick. The move will greatly help a Bucs offensive line that had been depleted at guard by the movement of free agent Davin Joseph to the Rams and the retirement of Carl Nicks. Tampa Bay had slotted Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins at their left and right guard positions, respectively, throughout the preseason.
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Mankins, the Patriots' first-round draft pick in 2005, comes into the 2014 season with six Pro Bowl nods and one First-Team All-Pro designation but just finished his most frustrating season. He started one game at left tackle as injuries rocked New England's front five, and he allowed 11 sacks total in 16 games, per Pro Football Focus' metrics. He had allowed just two sacks through 12 games the year before.
“Logan Mankins is everything we would ever want in a football player," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in a statement. "It is hard to imagine a better player at his position, a tougher competitor or a person to represent our program. He is one of the all-time great Patriots and the best guard I ever coached. Logan brought a quiet but unmistakable presence and leadership that will be impossible to duplicate. Unfortunately, this is the time of year when difficult decisions have to be made -- and this is one of the most difficult we will ever make -- but like every other decision it was made for what we feel is in the best interests of the team.”
Mankins, who turned 32 in March, suffered an ankle injury in Week 10 of the 2013 campaign. He played through it, as he often did, but it was clear that he was not at his best.
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"I just want to play until I think I don’t feel good -- and if I can still do it," Mankins said in July. "If I can’t do it, I don’t think I’ll keep going once I don’t feel I’m playing the way I want to."
At that time, Mankins seemed positive and encouraged about the future, and the Bucs will certainly hope to reap the benefits of that.
As for Wright, he comes to a Patriots team in desperate need of reinforcements at the tight end position with Aaron Hernandez
obviously otherwise occupied and Rob Gronkowski
proving to be unfortunately injury-prone. Last season, Gronkowski led all Patriots tight ends with 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns -- a shell of his former production, and certainly less than what Bill Belichick expected after he revised his offense to revolve around tight ends a few years back. An undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, Wright caught 53 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns in a Tampa Bay offense that was basically a dumpster fire.
It's not yet known who will replace Mankins at left guard. The Patriots selected Florida guard Jon Halapio in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. He started 43 of the 51 games he played for the Gators, but it remains to be seen if he's ready for prime time. Right guard Dan Connolly could always flip over, and Marcus Cannon will be a factor if he can stay healthy, but it leaves the Pats with something to think about. The Buccaneers, who have been picked by many to at least grab a wild-card playoff spot this season, made a major upgrade at their most vulnerable position.
2014 NFL division preview: NFC South
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the NFC South for the 2014 NFL season.