The holding line for New England Patriots fans for a more than a decade has been the title of this article.
Trust in Bill Belichick. Keep the faith. The Hoodie knows, he always knows.
Stars have come and gone. Richard Seymour, one of the Patriots’ best (and only, at the time) pass rushers traded to the Raiders in his prime. Wes Welker, one of the most beloved players in team history, shoved out the door. Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Mike Vrabel, Deion Branch, Adam Vinatieri, all gone in what many fans would call a premature time.
And yet, the Patriots have prevailed. This is how they, and, specifically, Bill Belichick, do things. And it has worked. The team is a perennial contender, taking the scraps from other teams and turning them into studs (thanks for Rob Ninkovich, New Orleans!)
But Tuesday’s trade of Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Bucaneers was a stunner, even by the Patriots’ standards.
Belichick said in his press conference that Mankins was the best guard he ever coached, and that’s not even hyperbole, but a cold hard fact. The six-time All-Pro blayer, and team captain, has long been the mean, nasty, centerpiece of a Patriots’ offensive line that Tom Brady has come to count on.
Last year, Mankins struggled, giving up 11 sacks on the season. But the entire offensive line was a mess, with Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly proving wildly uneffective and Sebastian Vollmer lost for the year with a brutal injury. Even at 32, Mankins was never going to be the weakest link on the line by any stretch of the imagination.
And that’s where my creeping doubt starts. Yes Mankins’ burdensome contract was going to rear its ugly head sooner rather than later. But it’s hard to look at the Patriots current roster and be confident in the offensive line without Logan Mankins.
Heading into the offseason the onus was on the team improving at center and right guard. However, at the draft, rather than drafting immediate upgrades, they picked projects in Bryan Stork and Jon Halapio, all but assuring that Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell would once again start (although, a case could be made for a healthy Stork to start).
But Mankins was supposed to be another sure thing with Vollmer and Nate Solder, not extra weight to be shipped off. Who fills that spot now? I love Josh Kline just as much as the next man, and was wildly impressed by his performance in his lone start, but it’s hard to put too much faith in the second-year player. Jordan Devey has gotten the majority of snaps in preseason, but hasn’t exactly been a stalwart. Marcus Cannon is overqualified to be a backup and looks like a guard, but has spent most of his career as a backup tackle; is he ready to jump into a starting role?
As much financial flexibility that it gives the team, it’s hard to see this as anything besides a move that’s created more questions than answers. The team didn’t just lose one of the better guards in the NFL, but they lost a team leader and a player who supplied a considerable amount of nasty.
Did the Patriots get a proficient haul in return in Tim Wright and a 4th round pick? Sure (I actually like Wright. He’ll never be Aaron Hernandez, but he’s a better option than the other potential “move” TEs on the market).
But in the end, it’ll all probably turn out fine. Things usually do for the Patriots. As much as this trade hurts in the short term, six months from now we’ll marvel at how good Josh Kline is or cheer loudly when Tim Wright becomes Brady’s new favorite toy. Because that’s how things go. We’ll ignore that creeping doubt for as long as posssible.
In Bill We Trust. God help us all.