Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Faith Can Move Mountains, We'll See About Defensive Tackles

The Patriots' trade of Logan Mankins was startling. The reaction to the trade by fans and commentators both inside and outside New England was more startling still. Ours is a querulous, distrustful sports world, apparently except when it comes to Bill Belichick.

The Patriots swapped an All-Pro offensive lineman for a tight end the Tampa Bay Buccaneers found superfluous to requirements and a fourth round draft choice. That's a bold and puzzling move less than two weeks before the season starts for one of the Super Bowl favorites. Yet inside and outside New England, the consensus among fans and commentators was not criticism, or even doubt, but childlike belief in the guy who made the trade. Bill must know what he's doing, even if I can't figure it out.

Belichick DOES know what he's doing. Most (but not all!) of his personnel moves DO work out for the Patriots, a track record which should be a significant part of any assessment of the Mankins deal. But it's one thing to say, here are Belichick's reasons for the trade and why he believes they are good ones. It's quite another to assert, whatever those reasons are, they must be good. The man's a football coach, not a sorcerer. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Blind trust in any authority figure is dangerous for both the trusting and the figure himself. Infallibility is impossible, and disillusionment with a failed authority once deemed infallible is the sort of thing that starts revolutions. A decent respect for Belichick's opinions requires us to try to deduce them, since he's not gonna tell us himself why Mankins is now a Buc.

Start with a process of elimination. All pro football personnel moves are partly about the money, but trading Mankins couldn't be ALL about the money. The financial aspect of the Pats' 2014 roster is a baked cake. Barring miracles, there won't be any available veterans worth spending Mankins' $6 million salary on. If Belichick needed Mankins' 2015 salary for future moves, a likely possibility, better to wring another season our of a still productive vet and then dump him.

This leaves us with the human portion of the deal, to wit, tight end Tim Wright. He has to be the source of most of the trade's logic from Belichick's point of view. The highly esteemed for cause coach of a preseason Super Bowl favorite which operates on the principle anything short of championships equals failure decided his best option for a title was to pay a high price for a tight end of promise.  That speaks of a deal born of need, not choice.

If Belichick believes the Pats need a tight end, they do. That much much blind faith I'll give him. Scouts and such compare Wright to Aaron Hernandez. Perhaps Belichick has concluded New England needs a return to its formidable two tight end offense to nose past the Broncos come January.

Or perhaps Belichick is worried about running a one tight end offense. If so, his sorcery will be sorely tested this autumn.


At 9:08 AM, Anonymous KSR said...

Given the weak return, I suspect this was more about moving Mankins than getting appropriate value. Even on the decline, Mankins was worth more than an extraneous TE and a 4th rounder. My theory is they wanted to free up money to overpay Devin McCourty. Just like they did with Jerod Mayo, Kyle Arrington, and even Logan Mankins. Which will necessitate future moves like this.


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