FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - THE PATRIOTS have been limping along at tight end. Their top two, Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui, are on the path to recovery, but New England apparently felt like it needed something more at an important position.
The Patriots demonstrated how they value tight end on Tuesday when they traded six-time Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins, one of the longest-tenured Patriots, to Tampa Bay for second-year tight end Tim Wright, who went undrafted out of Rutgers.
New England also received Tampa’s fourth-round draft pick in 2015.
Head coach Bill Belichick was more than 20 minutes late to his press conference Tuesday and perhaps it was the Mankins deal that held him up. It also could have been the roster cuts that were due at 4 p.m. Either way, it was a big day of decisions.
“Logan Mankins is everything we would ever want in a football player,” 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.”
Wright, 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, joins the Patriots after starting eight games and playing in all 16 for the Buccaneers in 2013. He had 54 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns. Before acquiring him, New England had made 10 tight end-related transactions in a little over two weeks.
D.J. Williams was released after sustaining an injury, but his resume was lacking. Undrafted rookie Justin Jones was a big target at 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds but he wasn’t showing enough promise. He was released, re-signed and released again.
Ben Hartsock, Steve Maneri and Terrence Miller were signed Aug. 10, but none screams “impact player.” Maneri is the only one still on the active roster, but Wright’s addition will likely make it easier to cut him.
Wright’s resume suggests he could help the Patriots. His 54 receptions as a rookie are more than the six other potential third-string tight ends New England has experimented with combined (46). Even Hoomanawanui has fewer receptions (37) in four years than Wright.
“We’re getting a solid player who can catch, who can run and run great routes,” said Darrelle Revis, who played with Wright in Tampa last year. “He was a wide receiver coming in and they switched him to tight end, so he has a lot of speed at the tight end position.”
But, without a doubt, the Patriots gave up a lot. They gave up somebody Tom Brady has relied on for a long time. And even though he’s 32, Mankins is still at the top of his game, having made the last five Pro Bowls. He was also a first-team All-Pro in 2010.
Offensive lineman Jordan Devey is the only NFL player to have played every snap through the first two weeks of preseason. He can play all five positions along the offensive line. New England also has Josh Kline at left guard.
The offensive line has played well in the preseason, but the center position remains uncertain. In losing Mankins, the Pats are losing familiarity.
“I think Logan is a guy that every man in this locker room can look to and try to be like,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater, who has played with Mankins since 2008. “He’s meant so much to this team over the years. He’s done so much for this team. He’s done a lot for me personally and my career.”
Mankins was drafted by the Patriots as the last pick of the first round in the 2005 draft and never missed a game his first five years in the league. He made his first Pro Bowl in 2007.
On Tuesday, the Patriots released defensive lineman Ben Bass, defensive backs Travis Hawkins and Jemea Thomas, wide receivers Derrick Johnson and Wilson Van Hooser and linebacker Deontae Skinner. They also placed running back Tyler Gaffney and linebacker Cameron Gordon on injured reserve.
No perceived locks were cut, but decisions will be even more difficult when the roster is cut down to 53. However, the players on the bubble who didn’t get cut have at least survived to play one more preseason game.