Patriots are always a step ahead
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - On paper, the trade between the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which sent six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to central Florida in exchange for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round draft pick, looked like a steal.
To the naive the Bucs, in desperate need of help for the interior of their offensive line, did the fleecing, taking advantage of a Pats club concerned about the long-term health prospects of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
To more seasoned observers, however, who understand it's better to give up on a player a year too early than a year too late, it was the Patriots playing the role of Danny Ocean, acquiring the young, detached pass-receiving threat from the tight end position they haven't had since Aaron Hernandez's life went spiraling down the drain.
"Logan Mankins is everything we would ever want in a football player," Pats head coach Bill Belichick said when confirming the deal. "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.
"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."
Large splashes before the beginning of the regular season are certainly nothing new in New England and history says that the team usually makes the right calls when it comes to veteran players.
In 2003, in a very unpopular move, the Pats cut hard-hitting safety Lawyer Milloy after two Pro Bowl campaigns and in 2009 the club traded star defensive lineman Richard Seymour to Oakland for a first-round pick.
In Mankins' case there is little question that he was one of the better guards in football for years but his play sharply declined in 2013 and he is now 32, set to make $6.25 million this season with a cap hit of over $10 million as the highest paid guard in pro football.
Considering 30 has been a clear demarcation line between ascending and descending players in the NFL, it's hard to imagine Mankins regaining his past level of play moving forward, at least on a consistent basis.
And remember New England used mid-round draft choices on Florida State center Bryan Stork, Stanford tackle Cameron Fleming and Florida guard Jon Halapio as insurance for its aging line.
Wright, on the other hand, is just 24, an ex-wideout at Rutgers who can beat any linebacker or safety in football with his athleticism and caught 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns as the top receiving rookie tight end in the NFL last season.
Meanwhile, as an undrafted college free agent on his rookie deal, Wright is set to make $498,333 in 2014 so perhaps the trade should read aging veteran dealt for promising receiver, mid-level draft pick and about $6 million in salary-cap space.
"I love Tim Wright as a football player," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said earlier this month. "Tim Wright has been a good football player for us, we like what he'll be able to do. You can split him out and the matchups we'll have with safeties and linebackers. You can catch me at any time and I might be disappointed in a player, but big picture, no there's no disappointment with Tim Wright. We like him being on our football team."
The Pats are going to like it even more because they are the ones with the experience taking advantage of his type of skill set.
It's true that New England has to be concerned about Gronk's health prospects for the future but Wright is hardly penciled in as his replacement or even an insurance policy for an inline monster like him. This is an attempt to replicate the matchup nightmare the team had when Gronkowski and Hernandez were on the field together.
Desperate teams do dangerous things and smart ones, well they do bold, brainy and astute things.
You be the judge of who stole what in this deal.