Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Patriots part with Mankins, hope new tight end has the "Wright" stuff

Apparently, when Bill Belichick's good buddy Greg Schiano was kicked to the curb by Tampa Bay Buccaneer's management, it didn't mean that the trade pipeline was closed.

The New England Patriots on Tuesday traded All Pro guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in doing so generating a level one shock wave that is sure to impact the fortunes of both teams.
Wright (81) celebrates one of his five touchdowns last season

What the Bucs get in Mankins is a nasty, snarling, road-grading country boy with a high tolerance for pain and a low tolerance for the shenanigans of defensive linemen, while New England gets a young H-back with a background in Schiano's tough-as-nails programs both at Rutgers University and last season in Tampa.

Wright is too slow (4.65) to play wide receiver and not really big enough to fill a traditional tight end role, but he is pure smooth hell out of the slot and provides a Brandon Lafell-like presence underneath the coverage.  Many are suggesting that the second year player from Rutgers is going to be able to fill the role that Aaron Hernandez left vacant last offseason, but he's a different kind of player.

In fact, Buccaneer's Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was kind of at a loss to decide what to do with the 6' 4", 220 pound tweener. "Tim can play tight end, but he can also play in the slot," Tedford said earlier in camp. "He can do a lot of things as a receiver and he’s done a nice job in the slot. That one’s still up in the air."

Wright was in line for the number three receiver position behind veteran Vincent Jackson and  rookie Mike Evans, but had fallen behind both veteran Brandon Myers and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the tight end depth chart and, despite being an exceptional athlete, was in danger of being phased out of the long-term plans for the offense.

The problem for the Buccaneers and head coach Lovie Smith, is that Wright struggles in the blocking game - which just goes to figure considering his long, slender frame - and Smith was concerned that having Wright as a traditional tight end would clue teams into what he was doing on any particular play, causing the defense to react with a nickle or dime package instead of keeping them guessing.

It is unclear how Belichick will decide to use Wright in the offense, and the learning curve is going to be both deep and accelerated, and there is little doubt that the kid that caught 54 balls last season as an undrafted rookie free agent receiver turned tight end adds another big target for quarterback Tom Brady to throw at - but for Tampa Bay, the direction that they want to go with Mankins is clear.

"He has a history of a certain type of play in the league." Smith said at the announcement of the trade. "tough football player, real man, everybody loves him, great guy in the locker room - exactly what we need on out football team and in the locker room."

"This is just a guy that we felt you couldn't pass on." Smith continued, suggesting that it was the Patriots that contacted him with an offer - regardless, what the Buccaneers get is their fourth new starter on the offensive line that was in serious need of upgrade, and a tough bastard to boot.

Mankins played the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL in his right knee, then tore the MCL in his left knee in the AFC Championship Game, then played in the Super Bowl with torn ligaments in each knee.  "I could still run, so there was no reason to sit out." Mankins said the following spring. "There were no MRIs or anything, so we never knew exactly what was hurt. If you can still run and play, there is no reason to go see a doctor, right?"

When asked how he could have possibly endured that level of pain, Mankins replied, simply, "Put a brace on it, tape an asprin to it, and go."

Both teams have to feel like winners in the trade, with the Bucs getting a five-time All Pro left guard when just two days ago they seemed resigned to giving outcast Richie Incognito a tryout, with the Patriots getting a somewhat known commodity who has the potential to and upside to form into another big weapon in a New England pass catching corps that was already full of them - and with a fourth-round draft pick along for the ride.

Wright is not Aaron Hernandez, however, so Patriots' fans should probably temper their enthusiasm toward the thought that Belichick is attempting to revive the tight end-centric offense - because Wright is destined to play all over the field, both as a compliment to beastly man-child Rob Gronkowski and as a compliment to the mix already present at receiver as a flex tight end.

Before the trade was made public, Belichick addressed the media and said repeatedly that he always does what's best for the football team - and then he scurried off leaving fans and media to ponder the implications of the transaction - but Bucs' coach Smith was rightfully upbeat and candid in his remarks in announcing the trade.

“Do I feel better about adding a Pro Bowler to our offensive line?" asked Smith rhetorically, "Yes I do.”

As he should.

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